What’s important to you?

Whats important to you

I started this blog without any great concept for where things would go down the road.  I just wanted to have a place where I could put down the little thoughts I had here and there without losing them. If in the process I was able to get feedback and a little bit of a better understanding of how other people were thinking about the same things, so much the better.  I think as far as being something that works from an outreach standpoint it’s been good. I’ve met and gotten to learn from a lot of great people along the way. It’s also been great as an outlet in terms of allowing me to have a place to park things that I’ve been thinking about that maybe aren’t something I have the time or energy to put into a full blown article or paper.  I’ve actually really enjoyed going back through and getting an opportunity to comb through those ideas a second time and see where I might be able to expand on them, see where my thinking has changed, or learn from somebody who’s posted a comment that made me think about things in a little bit different way.  It’s really been exceptional.

One of the things that I haven’t done yet is reach out with regard to things with what to write about because so much of it has been outlet driven. It’s been things that I’m thinking about that are important to me right now that I want to get out there. I’m wondering if I’m not missing out on an opportunity to understand what other people are thinking about and develop a better sense of where things are going in terms of the big picture. So I wanted to use today’s post to ask people for those ideas.

  • What are the things that you are thinking about?
  • What are you are curious about?
  • What topic would you appreciate hearing what myself and others have to say about it?

I know for myself that I’ve stayed away from all things political like sequestration and things like that. I only avoid it because I feel that so few of us have any ability or influence that would allow us to change the path of something and we are more likely just going to have to deal with living with the result of it. So I think in the case of something like that I’d be more tempted to write towards how to survive under the given circumstances and I’ve generally stayed away from all things political for those reasons. I think that there’s less opinion shaping than to be done then there is to be talking about dealing with the results.  Outside of the political line I’m very interested in hearing more about or getting anyone’s opinion on what are things that haven’t been discussed as much as they should.  So I’m curious what’s on other people’s minds and look forward to covering some of that in the not too distant future.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Sales: Shedding the used car salesman image

Used car salesman

One of the things that most people in the knowledge work force do every day now is sell.  We sell ideas, viewpoints, or particular positions on how to move forward and I think there’s this leftover negative connotation around sales from an era that’s long gone.  I think a lot of people when they hear “sales”, think used car salesman and all of the negative imagery that sort of comes with that. It’s really not appropriate anymore because a lot of that stereotype was built up around the unevenness of information. In the case of the used car salesman he knew a lot more about the history of that car and the current state of it than you did, so when you got one that didn’t work out you tended to feel that you got the shaft.

Now even in that particular business the information awareness has evened out because of things like Carfax and just the ability of the customer to communicate dissatisfaction with the product and thereby affect future sales.  So I think it’s changed a lot of how sales are transacted and a whole host of other areas. With this vast amount of information now available a premium has been put on honesty, customer service and delivery. By falling down in any of those areas it can have real and immediate consequences for an organization.

Now getting back to the idea that almost all of us are in sales and if you’ve ever read Thomas Pink’s book To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others, that is the kind of sales that I’m talking about.  It’s an excellent book and I think everybody should read it but one of the things I want to key in on is this idea demonstrated in the book. It was the idea that if you agree or believe that a lot of your job revolves around your ability to sell things like your ideas to coworkers etc., in order to perform you spend a lot of time thinking about how to communicate things. Your performance is predicated on getting those ideas into the implementation phase and I think one of the things that everyone finds themselves trapped in, myself included, is overcomplicating things or simply struggling to communicate things that are very complicated.

Sometimes what I try to do when faced with a challenging communication problem is I think about what an advertisement would look like for what I’m trying to sell.  We live in the age of YouTube, digital shorts, and TV advertisement. Figuring out how you would get your message across in 30 seconds is sometimes a good way to think about how you might get your meaning across in a 30 minute meeting.  I know for me, I trend towards talking more. If I’m given the time, I could spend an hour, hour and a half on any one idea. While that’s all well and good if you can’t sum it up in that 30 second period probably right at the beginning of that hour, then you will probably struggle to convince them no matter how much time you have.  So a lot of times I will try to step back and think if this was a 30 second commercial how would I do it?  No holds barred.  You know you can have the James Earl Jones voice talking, open up to a clip that looks out across the pyramids or some other type of fantastic venue, but just open your mind up to that level of creativity. Press down what you’re trying to convey into that short little time space. If you can just run through that little mental exercise I really think it could help. Even though it may seem silly, especially if it’s a serious topic and you’re trying to work to make schools safer or trying to pull cost out of large IT portfolio, whatever it is, try to distill it down into that basic short format. I think you’ll find it helps you to connect the dots on how to convey things.

So I’m curious what other people think. I’d really love to hear what other tricks people use to help them come to that summation point where they’re able to quickly give the elevator pitch of the project or idea that they’re trying to convince their team, organization, or even an outside organization to partake in.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Make somebody’s day and show your appreciation

Make soebodys day blog

No matter who you are I think it’s always nice to get a compliment especially if it comes out of the blue and you weren’t expecting it. Somebody says something nice and it can just change your whole day.  For the better part of the last week or so I’ve been working pretty hard on things and I’ve had my head down. So when I had somebody kind of unexpectedly say something really nice it just completely brightened up my entire day and it’s sort of carried forward the rest of the week. It’s amazing; you can have all the self confidence in the world, you can believe in what you’re doing, and it’s still nice to hear someone say, “Hey you’re doing a great job” or “I believe in what you’re doing.”  A simple compliment can make a lot of the time and effort that you spend worthwhile.

I think the biggest reminder in that for executives and managers is that sometimes you got staff that work really hard all the time. It’s not that they’re not doing anything extraordinary they’re just doing the great things that they do all the time at all times. It’s easy to forget that what they’re doing really is exceptional.  So I think you almost have to file a reminder away somewhere to make sure that you don’t overlook the everyday excellence. You need to take time to compliment people for the great things they do every day.  I know I’ve talked about it a few different times on here about making sure that you give credit and provide feedback both positive and negative. Particularly making sure that you provide positive feedback where it’s applicable but I think it’s something that’s really easy to forget the power that a quick little bit of positive feedback or compliment can have on a person.

Having that occurrence the other day just reminded me of how important that is to everybody, no matter who you are. It makes a difference, raises your performance, re-energizes you, and I think it’s something that everybody should try to do on a regular basis. So if you haven’t done it recently and you’ve got people sitting in your office today that really deserve a compliment for all their hard work, make sure you take the time to walk by, pick up the phone or get on a conference line and say thanks for all the hard work. Make sure to shoot them a quick note because it really makes a difference for people to be recognized for all the hard work they put in every day. Anyway I’d love to hear back from people and get their thoughts on things and if you want to call out somebody in particular for all their hard work and effort feel free to here.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

What’s more valuable: Listening to your Spidey Senses or your Statistics?

Spiderman

I had a business school professor that said you had to be careful with statistics because it was like driving using the rearview mirror.  I’m reminded of that because one of the major things I’ve spent the last couple weeks working on is some financial projections and trying to build out a business case.  This work has primarily been centered on school safety. So we’ve looked at things like what is the overall size of people involved? Well it turns out there’s:

  • 77 million Americans that are involved in education in some way
  • There are about 100,000 K-12 public schools
  • There are roughly 6,000 colleges and universities
  • Finally there are around 35,000 private schools

Along with those statistics there are obviously demographic build outs and parent teacher association involvement.  Turns out that’s one of the areas where there’s still a strong showing.  85% of the people surveyed said that they had attended or participated in a PTA meeting in the last year.  This means that either that’s an area where we’re very strong as  a country or people feel bad saying that they didn’t go so they over reported saying they did go.

There’s also a lot of statistics around crime. For example, 27% of teachers in the District of Columbia in 2010 reported they had been threated or physically attacked at school. Also a student is more likely to be victimized in school than out of school. Now on some level that makes since given the amount of time that a student spends in school vs. outside of school and what types of settings those are but it’s also a little bit scary. It’s one of the things that we’ve been focused on trying to develop technology solutions for, going on the better part of two years now.  So it’s interesting as you look at all that and you try to draw meaning from it. You think about how you might work to change some of those statistics especially around the prevalence of crime and safety issues in schools. You think about what are the contributing factors and how can private industry engage to support better education environments.

Now as you try to build out a financial model that allows you to stay in business while also providing this socially redeeming service and encourage people to invest in the model based on financial projections; it makes me think of other times where I’ve been at something like this. Times where we’ve done a business case for a technology investment or for even looking at a large IT portfolio for a private sector or public sector organization.  You’re trying to build out a business case again based on different statistics and your understanding of the organizations ability to handle change. You’re looking at what types of numbers are out there for people who have tried to do similar things and all of it amounts to essentially a lot of guesswork, educated guesswork, but still guesswork.  The actual implementation and reality are almost always starkly different from what you originally thought. So I don’t say all that to discount doing the activity because I believe to this day that it’s one of the most valuable things that you can do as you look to build out even a small project. I believe it is vital to try to build out financial models, business cases, and return on investment because it forces you to think about things that you would otherwise take on gut feel.

So whether or not things go according to your projection down the road, I think you’re much more prepared to handle the twists and turns that are to come by virtue of having really thought through the data that is available. You learn a lot by forcing yourself to wade through things where other people have gone out and attempted similar things and succeeded or failed. You have the chance to think about what are the lessons learned from those previous success and failures. I think that for most organizations, and even in entrepreneurial pursuits, there’s huge value in doing a business case.  Also when talking about the case that I’m working on right now there’s huge value to be found in working  the financial forecast for a new venture because it forces you to step through that project piece by piece.

So I’m curious what other people think. Do you run through those types of processes around the projects that your organization is attempting to do and how often do people go to the numbers to back an argument vs. just using gut feeling?  Now I don’t say that with a strong feeling one way or the other because I believe that the best way to approach it is to have the numbers but not to discount gut feel. Particularly if you’ve been at it a long time, there’s almost a spider sense that develops about certain projects that gives you a hint to where things might be going that maybe the numbers don’t tell you. At the same time I’m also a big believer in having those numbers available because they can provide great cues to action that otherwise you may ignore. They also may point out areas where you need to stay focused on as you progress through a project to make sure that you don’t fall into a trap that could have easily been avoided had you taken the time to take a look at the data that is out there.  So again I’m very curious to know what other people’s experiences have been and how they balance gut feel vs. projections and spreadsheets and what they believe is valuable in terms of business case.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Closing in on Crunch Time: 3 Things to think about

crunch_time_colour_skin_riproarrex_by_sr71abcd-d4vskt1

As your projects get down to deadline there are three things that can cause major problems as you get down to the wire. If a team has problems delivering at some point, they can probably trace back some of the issues that they had in achieving their goal to these things.

  1. General time wasters – By this I mean all the conversations at the front end and back end of solutioning activities. It’s the hallway talk that’s more interesting than staying focused on the task that you’re trying to grind your way through.  I think there’s a tendency in crunch time to reward small victories with the type of social interaction that most healthy working environments have on a day to day basis. It’s the 10 minutes here, 10 minutes there, snippets of conversation.  Certainly you can’t pull all of the social out of the sprint to the finish because then it just becomes a miserable death march but I think you do need to be careful about trailing into things that are counterproductive that are ultimately going to set the whole team back. It’s really easy to do because oftentimes when you’re working in those sprints within a project team you’re required to have more interaction. This is because you’re having to solve more problems faster so you get this sort of cumulative effect.
  2. You need to be more focused on how you pursue your communications – This one is directly related to the first in the sense that you need to schedule your communications explicitly and better. One of the things that falls apart as you charge towards the finish line is that the framework for project execution that may have been sustaining progress for weeks and months prior to the deadline can sometimes start to fall apart. As people take on individual challenges that need to be run to ground in order to get them finished in time, they can become so wrapped up in them that they become hard to access by other members of the team. All the sudden you’re creating choke points because you aren’t enabling the types of solutioning activities that need to occur person to person.  So as each person tries to complete their piece they’re effectively holding up everyone else’s progress on their pieces by virtue of not participating in answering a question that somebody has or whatever other type of interaction that is required to get it to the finish line.  So I think making sure that productive team wide communication is kept up is crucial.
  3. Perfect is the enemy of the good – This is all too common with teams of high performers and the types of cultures that are often found in high performing environments. You end up with a collection of people, each of whom is focused on delivering their piece to the absolute best of their ability, and sometimes what the team would really benefit from is if that person would sacrifice their personal standards just a little bit to deliver something that’s good enough to achieve the requirement that the team has.  This is something that you see all the time. Someone will obsess over a detail, specification, piece of a writing, or presentation in a way that is completely out of line with the value that that piece has to the final product. This is an absolute project killer because you need to, particularly as you’re trying to function against a deadline, have a common understanding of what good enough looks like. This gets back to what things needed to be identified at the beginning of the project but are really important in crunch time. You need to be able to identify: What are we focused on achieving here and how does what I’m dong play into the big picture?

So those are the big three things that I think get project teams in crunch time.  Two of them are very clearly social communications sort of things and I think the third one is related to that as well. There’s oftentimes a sort of self-imposed social pressure to deliver these exceptional work products when maybe what the team needs is just to get an acceptable work product across the table.  I’m curious what other people think and love to hear more.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

ExAM: Putting security and safety first

Heiwa_elementary_school_18 One of the things that’s been incredibly exciting for me personally and for our company has been the development of the ExAM for Schools product.  As somebody who has three kids that will all be in the school system soon and a partner who also has three kids in school, safety is something that we take pretty seriously.  You’re expectation when you drop your kids off at the front door at school is that they’re going to be safe. You’re more concerned with are they going to learn the things that they’re supposed to learn? Are they going to make friends? Are they going to have fun today? Unfortunately, if you look at the statistics around what’s happening in our schools, you probably would be a little more concerned than you are even if you don’t have kids.  After all everyone here is stuck here with the kids of everybody else, those are the people that are going to shape the next generation.  If we want this place to be a better planet over the next 20-30 years, we need to get serious about what our kids are learning at school, what that learning environment looks like, and what are the lessons that they’re taking home every day.

Over the last two years we’ve taken the security expertise that we have and built out on top of Salesforce. We built a comprehensive school security operations platform with the flagship idea of it being security assessments.  This is something that we had a background in. We’ve done assessments for about 190 schools in terms of basic physical security infrastructure. This means we looked at things like how do they stand with regard to lighting? Lighting is an important part of being able to feel safe on a school campus because dark areas invite people to do bad things if they’re so inclined.  Bad lighting makes it so that CCTV is less functional which brings me to the importance of understanding how CCTV is deployed in your environment.  All of these pieces are kind of active monitoring things but just simple things like understanding whether or not the paperwork is up to date from a facility inspection standpoint or from a security officer certification standpoint are important too.

There are so many things that go into ensuring that you’ve done the appropriate amount of facilities and security planning. You need to know that you’ve done the right amount of work to secure the exterior of your facility with regard to fencing, parking, and visitor management and same thing goes for the interior.  How do we manage people within the facility?  What type of monitoring measures do we have in place?  There’s a huge amount of things that go into just the security assessment alone as we work to develop this more comprehensive security and operations package for schools.

As we’ve gone to look and gone into market, so many things have happened over the last two years including a lot of real tragedies. We had a lot of heated debate internally about how do we get this out into the market. We have spent a lot of time talking about it and we’d like to offer it out for free.  I think that as somebody who has a real stake in how we educate people this is something I don’t want to see people miss out on or understand how important this is. You don’t want price to be what keeps somebody from going there with this increasingly vital assessment. What I’m curious about and what I’d really appreciate feedback on from the people out there in the government community, is whether or not this is something that is going to be feasible?  Is free going to be ok given that it might have implications for how school systems leverage it?  Ideally what we’d like to see is everybody take the ExAM, go through and get their scores, and immediately begin addressing areas where they have deficiencies. Then we can come in and try to sell them on our larger approach to school security and operations but first and foremost, we want to start that process of gathering information and beginning to address security situations whether or not we end up with that school system as a client.  So I’m very curious what people think? Is free going to be a problem as a pricing model for us and do people have advice for how to best move forward in terms of trying to get something out there? How can we at least get people engaged around fixing some of the security issues while we work towards some larger set of objectives?

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Working: In times of tragedy

I think most people here today, you got up this morning and your heart just goes out to the people of Boston and people that are directly and personally effected by yesterday’s events. It’s hard, if not impossible, to think about yesterday’s tragedy without thinking of all of the things that we’ve had to endure in our recent past and continue all the way back to 9-11 where we’ve just been profoundly affected by these national events.  For most of us today, we had to get up, get ready to go to the office, and continue to perform our everyday tasks in the face of heavy hearts and thoughts that might be other places. We’re not thinking about the spreadsheet that we’re looking at, the document that we’re working on, or the call we’re about to do.  It’s just hard to think and execute on the mundane and trivial things when you’ve got something like this going on in the country. So I think particularly as a manager, a leader, or team member, you should keep a few things in mind today and the days to come.

It’s in times like these it’s important to be sensitive to the people most affected by this and the extended network of those people, some of whom may be in your office. The Boston Marathon attracts people from all over the world and it’s not hard to believe that somebody in your office was there, had family there, had a friend there, and was touched in some way personally by this.  I think that it’s very important to recognize that in some way if you know that it is happening. You need to provide an environment that allows people to step forward if they want to acknowledge some sort of personal connection to this so that you can make allowances for that person.

This is a difficult time for people in this country because it makes people call into question their safety on a daily basis and makes them call into question the types of choices that they’re going to make.  Here in DC we’ve got a lot going on this weekend. There’s going to be heightened security and there’s going to be a lot of extra thought put into what you may or may not do this weekend on the basis of what happened at the Boston Marathon.  So I think that it’s something that we have to recognize is going to be a presence in our lives for some time to come. As such, we need to be very conscious of its effect on potentially the people that we work with. You need to let people be given the opportunity to put themselves in that camp so we can give them that extra consideration around things. This can be done by just a simple matter of saying, “I recognize that something terrible has happened in the country and I want to make sure that everyone here, our hearts, minds, and thoughts go out to the people of Boston. If anyone here needs some time or wants to talk to me about a situation that they have with regard to  that please feel free to do so and if there’s anything we need to do to accommodate that just let us know.”

Something that simple that allows people to either opt into the opportunity to have a little bit different interaction on the basis of this tragedy or opt out.  It’s very well possible that somebody does have a personal connection but they have too many different emotions going on right now to want to deal with it in a public way or with the team. So by virtue of that and them not saying anything, it’s a tacit sort of way of putting out there that they don’t want to have that discussion and you can respect that as well.  I think it’s best to lead with something like that as a manager or leader so that you give people the opportunity to opt out because some people are just going to want to be left to their own devices. I think you want to have the infrastructure in place to care for people when they need it as they need it but you also need to be respectful of people’s wants and desires.  Those are my thoughts. I’m very curious what other people have to say on this topic, ways that they’ve dealt with things. I know that in this area in Washington DC 9-11 shaped a lot of the thinking around it and I’m curious what other people think.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.