Buy outcomes, not output

Outcomes vs output

There a couple of things you need to think about before you buy consulting services, management consulting, or any of the types of services where you’re looking for a unique perspective or insight, the benefit of experience,  and a fresh view on things.  Anytime you’re looking for something that’s going to end in real change for your organization, it’s important to make sure the original purpose doesn’t get lost in the current economic climate’s push to make sure that you’re making the most of your dollars and spending appropriately.  I know that a lot of organizations are much more cost conscious than they have ever been previously but I think that focusing on value, especially when you’re looking at management consulting type engagements where small changes have huge consequences, is vital.  You need to be really careful about how you judge value there.  More people at a lower rate does not necessarily mean better value.  I’ve had some interesting conversations with people over the years as they look to maximize individual rates on personnel, or in this case minimize.  They try to maximize their perception of value so they focus on driving down individual rates or sometimes total cost, but a lot of times it means using people with lower individual rates, and in turn that sometimes means quality.  It’s just part of the problem with contracting things on a time and material basis.

I would really like to see a shift away from that. I know that it’s an easy way to measure what you’re getting sort of situation, but I think what it tends to make vendors do is beef up the amount of paper that they deliver; and to deliver more paper they put more junior people on tasking because those are the paper creators.   They slim down the time that senior staff spend on the engagement and you end with maybe one person who’s been there and done it before.  Then you end up with five or six people other people that are no doubt smart and have been to the right schools and know lots of things but probably aren’t maybe necessary to get the job done in the first place. They’re extra; they’re part of the extra value that the client is getting but in reality they are not necessarily solving the problem that you went in there to fix.  I think it’s why so many organizations, when you initially start talking to them, they point to the failures of the past and the failures of the past are monstrous SharePoint sites that are full of documents.  You know they’ve got an entire library of things that have been created on their behalf but they haven’t really moved the ball forward.  You know why that is?  I think it’s because they focused on the output not the outcome.

So I think that as you go into to acquire something, be careful about what you’re really trying to get on the other side.  Now I’m not sure what the exact answer is but I know that at MB&A we try to position things in terms of here’s the value of that you’re going to get and less in terms of here’s how many hours you’re going to get of somebody’s time and what it’s going to cost you per hour because I just don’t find it to be very valuable.  I know that by using a times and materials basis it’s easier to explain as a vendor talking to a client, but I don’t think it gets the client anything and it tends to encourage the wrong kind of behavior which is: lower rates, more hours, neither or which has to do with more outcomes.  So I’d be interested to hear how others have solved this problem for their organization or times when they’ve run into this problem.

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.

Voice Memos: Capturing thoughts faster than you can think them

Voice memo

Over the years I have gone around and searched for different ways to get things out of my head, on paper, and in front of the right people quickly.  The solution I’ve found to be most effective and efficient is the voice memo in terms of getting the ideas out and to other people to collaborate on the quickest. I use Apple’s voice memo on the iphone on an almost a daily basis.  In fact, this blog is being dictated into my voice memo and will be transcribed and edited by one of our team members tomorrow to get posted. I really have come to depend on the voice memo as a way to remind myself of things, to capture ad hoc thoughts, because what I’ve found is that its not always convenient to write something down like when I spend time in transit to meetings and on the way to and from work. So when I’m in the car driving by myself and I have a great thought, or at least what I think is a great thought, I pull out my phone and dictate into it a little bit. In that way I can instantly capture something that would otherwise get lost. I think for a great many people, the pace of modern work life is such that if you don’t capture something right as it happens you may never get second chance at it. I mean how many great ideas do you miss by virtue of the fact that you forgot that you had a great idea? Most of us will never know. So I’ve become very aware of just how important it is to make sure that you capture these thoughts as they happen and by using this simple tool I can make sure I don’t fall victim to that.

A lot of times in the evening when I may be too tired or just not feel like taking out a notepad and writing down what I have to do the next day, I can take three minutes and just run through five or six things that I know have to happen and listen to them on the way into work the next morning. During a lunch break, if I’ve been thinking about a topic that I want to write a blog about or that I want to hash out later, I’ll dictate it into a voice memo. Then I’ll either send it on to be transcribed and then edit it after the fact or just send it on to the next person to get their input. Lately I’ve actually, as opposed to composing a email, talked through something into a voice memo which gives me the opportunity to talk myself through a problem and really see my idea stream. If that results in something too all over the place, I’ll usually go back through, listen to it, transcribe it myself, put down the salient points, and pass it on to the next person. Or if I do a halfway decent job and its something that I think the other person can get I just send it along, share it,  or pass it forward. I think it’s been a pretty simple and valuable for me. In the cases where I’ve sent on the actual voice memos themselves to team members I try to take care to make it short enough that it will get played through and I try not to send anything that is so all over the map that it would take extensive note taking skills, followed by extensive deconstruction in order to make sense of it.

It’s interesting as I’ve done more blogs via voice memo dictation how different you talk to an idea as opposed to how you write to an idea.  I don’t know if it’s making me better at speaking or better at writing but it’s certainly making me more a lot more aware of the differences.  But in the end, it’s just an incredibly powerful tool.  Part of what makes it so powerful is its availability. The one thing that almost everyone always has with them in the modern age is a mobile phone.  It never leaves your side, its always on, you’ve got a record of all the voice memos that you have previously, and if you take a little time you can categorize them fairly well.  I know that I’ve gone back and played back certain memos and it’s been a good way to hang on to ideas and again it makes it very very easy to share with other people.  So in the era of voice to text and so many advances with regard to how we collaborate, I’m curious how many other people are out there still using voice memo? Whether its on an iphone like I use, a dictatophone, or even dictating to some type of a scribe, how many people are regularly using that to communicate ideas, to condense their thoughts,  or just get things out of their head and out to other people?

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.

NY Times: Interview of Kon Leong: Interviewing for Brains and Drive

NY Times Interview of Kon Leong Interviewing for Brains and Drive

Brains and drive are the real prerequisites of future successful hires

The New York Times had a great interview with Kon Leong co-founder, president, and chief executive of ZL Technologies, an e-mail and file archiving company. One of the things that really struck me in the interview was the way that he spoke to his interviewing process. I know that in my line of work we spend a lot of time trying to identify people who are “great fits” for the job. In our case, this often means Systems Engineering and other technical backgrounds. I thought it was interesting that he never once mentioned this in his coverage of his interview process. He was truly focused on what that person wanted and where they wanted to be. Basically, he said he was looking for people with “brains and drive” because those are the real prerequisites for the job. I don’t know that we will completely do away with our vetting for technical skills but the interview definitely made me re-think some of what we emphasize.

We have lucked into some great people that only made it onto our team because they came recommended by someone we respected or we had a chance to work with them before hiring them. It makes me wonder how many great candidates we miss because they don’t fit the precise technical background we are looking for in most of our positions. In fact some of our positions do require very specific technical skills. However, we look for these technical skills across a far broader number of roles than we probably need to and for every role in our company the most important skills or prerequisites are really those he mentions, drive and brains. As long as you have those we can probably teach you the rest, without them it doesn’t matter what type of technical chops you have—you won’t be successful.

In short he asks a lot of soft skill questions, which makes me think of the blog post I wrote about the “5 skill areas needed to transform your organization,” which includes personal productivity as one of those areas of focus. Kon Leong broadens the lens to focus in on the core beliefs, work ethic, and raw materials a person is bringing to the job. He also focuses on their ability to think outside the box and make their own judgments. These are critical skills in today’s business world because so much of the work that we do is fluid in nature. Technical experts and other specialists are becoming rarer except in the largest organizations as middle management shrinks and the day-to-day business of doing business changes to accommodate the rapid pace of innovation and evolving operating environments. Kon Leong seems very focused on getting people who can evolve, scale, and make their own decisions—perfect for the rapidly changing environment I describe in Why do I need to “Transform” my organization?

Here are some of the specific questions Kon Leong mentions using in the NYT article in interviews:

  • I would want to know your goals for the job. Is it money? Learning? Fulfillment?
  • How willingly do you accept stuff, and how willing are you to question things?
  • How creative are you in finding your own answers?
  • Are you willing to learn from your mistakes? Do you do that automatically?
  • Are you willing to set the bar higher?
  • Are you able to deal with failure? Can you bounce back from it?

What do you think about this sort of open ended approach to interviewing? Where do you focus your questions within interviews?

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.

Getting Things Done: Three key takeaways that will change your performance

For most people life becomes more complex over time. I know that for myself, going from being a single college grad with few responsibilities outside of paying the rent to an executive balancing work and family life, has been a daunting task. For high performing individuals that hold themselves to uniformly lofty standards, the pressure to meet the endless sea of requests, requirements and tasks can be overwhelming. The resulting stress can and does seep into every aspect of your life.  This can negatively affect your health, relationships, and work performance.  If left unchecked, it can become a vicious cycle. I know that over time I’ve periodically attempted to get “radically” organized.  I’ll spend a weekend re-establishing my filing, building detailed calendaring systems, and generally getting organized in the extreme.  Inevitably, once Monday hits and the pressures come back, I start sliding back into old habits and managing everything in my head. I finally broke down and got an assistant in the belief that if I couldn’t stay organized on my own, then maybe I could hire someone to be organized for me.   None of it worked.
Then I was out on travel and was talking to a good friend who recommended I read GettingThings Done: The Art of Stress Free Productivity by David Allen. I have traditionally been pretty skeptical of these sorts of organizational silver bullets. This is in large part because they haven’t ever really worked for me. Either they have been too complex or I just haven’t been able to see what value they provided. This book and its method were different right away. Rather than being a complex system for completely re-organizing your life, the focus repeatedly is on simplicity and real world usage. This dovetails with my own personal philosophy around managing organizational and personal performance, which can often be boiled down to “never over engineer.” I often find myself advocating for a less is more approach because too often executives become overwhelmed by the data available to them rather than being guided to the most relevant information needed to make a decision. Getting Things Done is for getting yourself organized. It is very focused on creating a maintainable, common sense oriented system that you can actually use. For myself, I haven’t implemented the whole system. I plan on implementing the whole system (eventually), but I have pulled 3 key concepts from the system that have completely changed my ability to get things done, manage the complexity of my life and feel better about how I spend my time.
The first thing I’ve taken away from the book is that I’ve joined my organization of my work life with my home life. I no longer attempt to maintain a fictional division of duties, as though some other gentleman is responsible for getting my kids to soccer practice, buying groceries or meeting with a teacher. As a card carrying member of the multiple kids, sports, and schools crew; my home calendar rivals my work calendar. Why I made an effort to separate these two parts of my life in my head makes no sense to me now. There is only one of me. Why I was trying to create artificial separation that lead to artificial complexity is anybody’s guess. I’ve implemented the Getting Things Done idea of using “contexts” for home and other major items, but I no longer try to maintain separate organizational systems for them.
The second key has been life changing for me. I now do anything that comes into my head that I can do in less than two minutes immediately. As someone for whom much of the mental clutter in their life is sending tasking to different team members or executing other tiny tasks, this has been enormously helpful. I have often sat at my desk and shoved those thoughts from my mind when I was trying to push through something that required my full attention. This created a backlog of tiny tasks that my mind simply could not stop pulling me back towards. Using this Getting Things Done concept I’ve been able to clear the desks of these little tasks and actually stay focused on the longer tasks that require extended periods of undivided attention. The fact is that by simply handling these as they come to mind I’ve significantly increased my daily productivity, and by clearing the decks of these tiny tasks I’ve been able to enjoy my leisure time because I don’t have a thousand tiny tasks buzzing around my head.
Finally, I’ve gone to writing everything down. I spent the day after I read the book dumping my entire mental to do list both personal and work life into OmniFocus, a Getting Things Done friendly productivity tool which is available for Mac, iPhone and iPad. At the end of the day I was shocked at how many things were tugging on my mind every day. The fact is that I had been feeling overwhelmed because I really had a lot on my plate. David Allen talks about executives being unable to sleep well or focus because of the sheer number of things pulling at their minds. Even while I was buying into the ideas he had in the book, I kind of laughed at the idea that putting these things down on paper or into electrons was going to change how I felt. It did. My wife has always said that she wonders what’s going on in my head sometimes. I know that I’ve often drifted into thought about something to do with work only to come back to the world and have missed my daughter’s description of what she did today at kindergarten. It is a terrible feeling. I was sacrificing quality time with my family because I couldn’t stop thinking about some obligation, meeting or project. The simple act of writing these down in a place I could always check freed me of the obligation to balance these things in my mind all of the time. I won’t say that I never think of the office when I’m away from work, but I do find that I rarely experience the nagging sensation that I’ve forgotten something or find myself fixating on work tasking during dinner. The act of putting these things into a place I’ll remember them has freed me to be in the moment with whatever I’m doing both at work and at home. For me, being able to devote my full attention to that one thing I’m working on has changed my personal performance both at home and at the office.
Just implementing these three simple things has changed my life and given me a peace of mind I haven’t felt since I had significantly fewer responsibilities. As I mentioned at the beginning of this article I came to read this book with a bit of a preconceived notion that most of this type of organizational self-help simply doesn’t work. I’ve changed my opinion after reading the book and I hope that you will take the time to do so as well; just remember that you don’t have to implement the whole thing to get value. I’ve started small and it has really been a game changer for me. Just grab some of the concepts he has that appeal to areas of weakness in your personal organizational efforts. As a former skeptic, it’s worth the time and effort.

Have feedback? See me online at @jmillsapps on twitter.

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.

Can you talk to the business in business terms?

I wrote last week on the importance of running your IT organization like a business and what I got back was that I had fallen into the classic trap of providing advice on what to do, but no insight into how to do it. This week I’m going to try to fix that by talking directly to how you can talk to the impact your IT organization has on some of the classic business measures without forgetting that these are being seen through the lens of the IT organization. In the following section I have identified some important talking points IT executives should use when framing their impact to the organization. For each major business driver I have identified a few questions you should ask yourself and then identified a few ways that you can express how your organization can frame its impact on these important business focused measurements. So put your business hat on and change your IT centric mindset.


How do you talk to the business?



Growth

Growth is the lifeblood of most business discussions and finding ways to frame the IT organizations impact on growth is critical if you are going to forge a lasting partnership with the business. Growth comes in two flavors top line meaning adding to the company’s overall sales and revenues and bottom line essentially the company’s income after all of the expenses have been deducted from revenues. One of the reasons that the technology portion of Corporate Marketing Officer budgets has been steadily growing over the last few years is because of how much impact technology has on top line growth. The impact of social/new media, big data and analytics on sales and top line growth has made technology part of the executive discussion when avenues for new growth are being discussed. Unfortunately, these initiatives are often done as one-offs rather than as a comprehensive plan. Understanding the interplay between an analysis of existing customer data, trends within your organizations social presence and planned technology investments ensures that the IT organization is able to support top line growth without putting additional pressures on the bottom line. Growing the bottom line can occur by growing revenues while holding expenses constant as a function of revenues or in an ideal world reducing those expenses so that the bottom line grows faster than revenues. Technology can help here by reducing the costs associated with the delivery of the business capabilities necessary to support top line growth. Technology is critical to support growth based on the 90/10, 80/20, 70/30 investment concept as well.  By spending 90% of its IT dollars for legacy operations and only 10% for improvement or future operations most organization’s are unable to keep up with organizational needs.  At 80% legacy, 20% improvement/re-capitalization most organizations are treading water.  At 70/30 or 60/40, depending on risk tolerance and the industry sector, is an organization that should be improving its posture relative to the market and industry. These are rules of thumb of course, and not hard and fast but they should prompt the right type of thinking. How the IT organization gets to that more innovative mix may include a mix of new investment and cost savings and the removal of redundancy from the existing investment mix to reduce spend and legacy investment.

What you should ask yourself

Is our technology aligned to our strategy?
Is our technology helping us reduce the cost to deliver business capabilities?
How does technology support our growth strategy?
Is our technology organization investing to meet the growth strategy of the company?

Framing IT’s Support of the Business

Develop the mapping of strategy to the technology that supports it.
Express your IT portfolio to ensure that growth and innovation are identified.

Risk

Risk includes the prospect and impact of uncertainties including those caused by both events and those tied to a lack of information. Recent events within our economy have highlighted the impact risk can have on a company and the economy as a whole, and most company’s are looking for ways to reduce risk both by better understanding their operating environment as well as by mitigating the outcomes of adverse risk related events. Within the technology organization a real opportunity exists to highlight enterprise risk that may otherwise go unnoticed. In this day and age, technology organizations span and support almost every aspect of the business. They support business processes, data collection, manage information exchange, understand who has access to what information and have opportunity to see the enterprise in a more holistic fashion than most individual business units. This cross cutting view, if leveraged, not only provides enormous opportunity to improve performance but also helps to understand systemic risk. The problem is that IT alone is often a few steps short of taking the holistic understanding of the businesses technology environment and using it to help the organization reduce its exposure to adverse risk. What is the real cost of downtime, security breach, etc.? What are the effects that ripple across the system? In an era of enhanced data sharing across business applications and a focus on analysis the same innovations driving top line growth may bring with them new risks. IT organizations need to be aware of and ensure they can adequately address the business risk buried within the technology.

What you should ask yourself

Do you understand which technologies support business capabilities and their risks?
Do you understand the risk profile of your IT investments?
Do you understand the risk profile of your IT organization?

Framing IT’s Support of the Business

Develop an enterprise risk map incorporating both IT and business risk so that concentrations of business and IT risk that cluster together are understood holistically.

Consumer Trends

Evolving consumer behaviors, expectations and desirements are driving purchasing behaviors and successful companies are able to keep abreast with this more rapid pace of change. The world of information has fundamentally changed and with it so has doing business. The saying that “Bad news travels fast” has never been truer, in an age where Twitter and Facebook make real time product evaluation a reality. The up side is that there has also never been so many ways to get close to, interact with and understand customers and potential customers. The level of pre, post and in sale opportunities for technology savvy companies is growing daily and companies that are able to stay better in synch with their customers will have a sustainable competitive advantage. Helping the business understand how you are developing your technology organization to better understand and interact with the customer and how you will use this to drive sales makes technology relevant to the business. Master Data Management doesn’t matter to business people unless they can understand why having access to specific information (customer sales) data can be helpful across multiple departments, systems and organizations.

What you should ask

How is our technology helping us understand our customers?
Is our technology able to meet evolving customer needs?
Are we getting enough information about our customers?
Is our technology helping us influence our customers?

Framing IT’s Support of the Business

Develop a mapping of evolving customer requirements, the businesses efforts to meet these requirements and the paths by which IT is supporting those efforts. Hint: Think multi-level. (Social Media, Big Data, MDM, etc)

Supply Chain Management

This includes the management of all of the businesses, activities, materials and information required to deliver from the various points of origin for raw materials to the value being delivered to the end customer. The modern supply chain is global in scope and includes a vast sea of participants all playing some small or large role in delivering the end value enjoyed by and purchased by the customer. This chain enables some pretty incredible cost savings to be passed on to consumers or taken by companies as profit. The combination of the supply chains breadth in spanning the distance from raw materials to the end customer, and complexity due to its many participants, events, and processes; the supply chain can be a place where major transformation of the bottom line occurs. Even small changes in the friction between moving parts can create enormous changes to the bottom line and in some cases improve the top line by improving time to market. Despite the enormous opportunity for cost savings, efficiency gains and increased profitability, the scope and complexity of the activity nearly ensure that the technology organization could be further improving the performance in this area.

What you should ask

Have we identified areas of improvement within our supply chain?
Where are the areas of “friction” within the supply chain?
Do we understand the supply chain well enough to drive down costs?

Framing IT’s Support of the Business

Overlay the complex and dynamic supply and demand network with the technologies and investments supporting these efforts. Highlight pain points.

Selling, General and Administrative Expense (SG&A)

SG&A includes expenses directly linked to the sales of individual product as well as indirect expenses allocated proportionally to sales and administrative costs like those reflected in the technology budget. A myriad of opportunities exist here for the technology organization to reduce the expenses by reducing the costs to deliver technology services. There is also a real opportunity for the technology organization to lead the reduction in cost in other areas within the organization that contribute to SG&A by understanding the major business processes surrounding and embedded within cost centers and working to implement technologies that can reduce the cost of doing business.

What you should ask

Where are the business processes that could benefit most from technology/modernization?
Where are the opportunities to reduce existing IT costs by moving to the cloud, outsourcing, etc. in order to reduce the cost to deliver capability?
Am I using the optimal technology mix to deliver my organizations capabilities?

Framing IT’s Support of the Business

Within your investment portfolio identify the projects that will specifically go to reducing overhead.
Display the process by which the IT organization works to discover and modernize business processes in order to reduce overhead including those results.

Time to market

Time to market is the gap in time between organization having the idea for a product and delivering it. The technology organization should be able to close this gap over time by fostering collaboration; increasing organizational agility and helping the organization make sense of market data in order to put more organizational focus behind ideas that are right for the market.

What you should ask

How does the technology organization support collaboration?
How easy is it for the organization to exchange data?
Does the organization have well defined and re-usable services available?
Is the technology organization capable of supporting experimentation by the business (POCs)?
How hard is it for the business to start a technology project?

Framing IT’s Support of the Business

Plot IT investments on a timeline and include the business initiative spawning the investment along with business initiatives made after the investment in order to better present to the business the ongoing value of past investments to future operations. The idea is to convey the idea of re-use and reduced time to market.

Technology investments

Technology investments are made with one purpose to recognize a gain in profits or benefits from the acquired technology. However many organizations have trouble making discreet business cases for investments in technology that are not directly tied to a specific project or program. Investments in technology strategy, planning, security, and even ongoing operations become a gray area as their distance from the customer grows. Many organizations struggle to get investments that IT executive “know” are necessary because they cannot describe the organizational return in a manner that resonates with business executives. Similarly, executives struggle for funding for “glue” initiatives that enable the exchange of information between applications, constrain technology purchasing decisions, or impose hard to define enterprise value over easier to quantify project value.

What you should ask

Do we have a repeatable process for developing an understanding of what the business will get from the technology?
Are we identifying and pursuing the technologies and solutions that will have a high ROI?
Is the business defined well enough to show how technology supports the different facets of the organization?

Framing IT’s Support of the Business

Graphically display the value of the infrastructure investments necessary to support the “projects” of the organization. In many organizations executives are less likely to question project type investments that have easily calculated ROIs but balk at the cost of the underlying capabilities and their costs. When these costs are simply allocated across units and projects as a slice or tax they are more likely to be characterized as excessive. Hint: This works better if your projects total area in the representation is larger than the projects.

Competitive landscape

The competitive landscape for most companies is rapidly evolving with factors including competitive rivalry, suppliers, customers, and new entrants and products. Each can play a unique role in reshaping industry dynamics and the interplay between the factors can make discerning the root causes of contributing factors difficult to understand at the same time that the reality of the change is greatly effecting the bottom line. Technology can play an enormous role in changing the competitive landscape by helping the organization directly attack a factor that is an obstacle for it within the competitive landscape. An example might be reducing switching costs for new customers by handling the movement of their data or reducing the bargaining power of suppliers by having better insight into material costs or enhancing your ability to work with more suppliers.

What you should ask

Have we identified the role technology can play in influencing the competitive landscape?
How does our technology support competitive advantage?
What technologies do our competitors use to gain advantage?
What technologies do our customers use that are changing the competitive landscape?
What technologies will change our relationship with our suppliers?

Framing IT’s Support of the Business

Lay out a matrix with competitors and capabilities that result in competitive advantage. Next, score yourself against each competitor. This can be a good way of understanding how your technology is helping you win in some areas and may fall short in others.
Joshua Millsapps
Senior Partner, Millsapps, Ballinger & Associates
Twitter: @jmillsapps

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.

Run your IT organization like a business

The current economic climate has put a particular emphasis on the efficiency and effectiveness of organizational projects and IT portfolios. Programs and projects that are unable to demonstrate a reasonable return on investment are being punished, and in many cases rightfully so. Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on your particular vantage point, management’s axe is falling on those whose outcome is not well defined, whose numbers don’t add up, or worse who simply have no numbers. As a firm believer in having well defined outcomes, business cases and aligning change initiatives, programs, projects and other organizational resources to strategy.  I think that this is probably a good thing. In the short term however, both evaluators and those being evaluated will need to work together to ensure that the unfortunate consequences of this new focus on the outcomes, alignment and return on investment are protected and advocated for by people with similar requirements and “desirements”. This will only work if those same people have comparable abilities to “market” their interests. This can be a serious problem for the organization as a whole if management doesn’t recognize that there may be a gap between perceived value and real value. One of the things that is fairly widely accepted in the business world is that you should be careful what you measure because what you measure will get done. The renewed focus on accountability and return on investment across many organizations is essentially a renewed emphasis on measuring based on these yardsticks. I believe that in the long run this will have enormous benefit for organizations that stick with it and evolve their project and portfolio management efforts in coordination with an overarching performance management program. In the short run it may cause enterprise problems by punishing organizations, programs and projects that are delivering results but aren’t able to enunciate their value. IT executives take note; this may be a major problem for you sooner rather than later. Most business executives are fluent in the business case and live and breathe return on investment, they may also have more access to experienced sales and marketing professionals. IT executives generally don’t have that same expertise on staff, or in their personal background. This is compounded by a real gap in understanding – how what they do actually does impact the business.
How well can you present the benefit the business gets from your resources? How much did it help them? What were the outcomes that resulted? Executives that aren’t able to answer these questions are going to lose the budget battles in tight economic times, they are also going to lose control of their portfolios over time to outside vendors that can better enunciate their value proposition. I’m not advocating that IT executives develop their own marketing department, but I do think that there are some real lessons that need to be learned by IT in order to ensure that their efforts are appreciated and that the organization as a whole gets the value it is supposed to from their technology organization. The following 3 steps will help the IT executive better communicate the value to the business.
Step One: Establish ongoing relationships and remember to take credit. This can be as simple as developing a systematic approach to gathering the fruits of your success in order to reflect some of that glory back to your unit as a key enabler. Did your team help bring on a critical new application that increased sales? Go to the business unit and get the numbers. Did you make some course corrections during the delivery to tailor the application for the business? Get a quote from someone. Think of it as an internal press release to help generate more business (funding) for your IT department. More importantly make gathering this type of feedback a part of every project’s execution. One of the biggest things most IT shops need to come to grips with in this new era is that they are no longer operating as monopolies within their organizations. The proliferation of options and changing expectations of stakeholders means that you are now in competition with a wide range of vendors for wallet share within your own organization. Those vendors will have marketing and sales teams, you need to counter this by building your internal communications practice, developing business side advocates and taking advantage of your domain expertise. I want to be very clear – I’m not advocating for a territorial IT department that pushes back on initiatives just because they use outside vendors. I’m suggesting that we are entering an era when internal IT departments can lose budget to outside vendors based on a lack of marketing rather than a lack of competitive offerings. I think this competitive environment is good in the long term and probably means that we will see successful internal IT departments that are much more tightly integrated with the business than ever before, because those that don’t will see their influence and footprint erode substantially as outside vendors that are willing to work closely with the business win more and more wallet share. Remember that you need to reach out to the business units regularly. Not just to let them know when the network is down but to let them know what you are doing to help support their initiatives and to provide opportunities for feedback.
Step Two: Establish a set of criteria for success that you can tie to the value proposition and the organizations values. Many of the measurements we are accustomed to in IT – from uptime to help ticket resolution – don’t clearly tie back to the bottom line. They are probably good to do, for example it is probably good for the corporate website to be up and running at all times, but what does that mean for the business? How many visitors does your site get? What do you know about those visitors? What percentage of your corporate revenue is dependent on the supply chain system running in your datacenters? If you process 65,000 transactions a month that account for 1/2 the corporate revenues related to a specific line of business and every outage of more than 2 minutes costs you thousands or tens of thousands of dollars, it provides context for “overhead” expenditures. Does the line of business you are supporting really understand what they are getting for their dollars if you are working on a fee basis? I spend a lot of time with business side executives that don’t understand what they are getting for the 7 million they spend every year on IT. The story IT tells has to be tied to the story of the business and its success, clearly aligned to the success of the business. If you can’t tell that story then something is probably wrong not just in how you are marketing yourself to the organization but in how you are executing your programs. You should be able to clearly work backwards from the strategic approaches of the business to best understand how each is enhanced by your technology offerings. If you aren’t sure how your programs are critical to executing the business you can be sure that the business is wondering the same and eventually that wonder will culminate in budget cutting or re-allocation. If your organization has a clear strategy coming from executive leadership, it is worth taking the time to align your internal strategies to that top-level strategy. Similarly for performance indicators, taking the time to align these ensures that you can clearly talk to how your efforts support the business.
Step Three: Start thinking like you are in business to support the business. This means developing the in house skill to develop business cases, strategic communications and relationships. Again, I’m not suggesting that you need to go out and get a sales and marketing staff, but the IT staff has to start thinking about things that used to be “business” stuff. Developing business side relationships are critical and will improve your performance over time. Spending time cultivating those relationships will not only ensure you have an advocate at budget time, but will ensure that you are responsive and are deserving of that advocacy. Don’t think of it as a sales job, think of it as requirements gathering. Great sales people are great at client side requirements. This is a skill worth building in your organization. No outside vendor should be able to beat your team in understanding your own organizations requirements, yet I have often heard from business executives that they decided to do something because vendor “X” really got their problem. How is this possible for an outside sales team? How could an outside team come in and beat you at understanding your own organizations requirements? If an outside vendor has the right technology to meet your business requirements you should be the first to realize it and should be the ones bringing the vendor to the business rather than evaluating it after the fact. Don’t depend on the business to drag you to their next set of requirements. One of the greatest competitive advantages your organization should have is an absolute lock down on domain expertise. To be successful and stay relevant you must exploit this to your fullest advantage. Identify and begin talking to your business customers about the technologies and solutions that are going to be changing the industry before the vendors of the same start talking to your business. This isn’t about shutting them out, because to be a successful IT organization you will need to bring in and adopt some of these same technologies in order to ensure the business is successful. It is about ensuring that you have the confidence of the business. Every time the business hears a pitch about something that a competitor is doing to save money, enhance productivity, etc. that you haven’t talked to first you lose credibility and eventually this will affect the performance of the organization as a whole.
Finally, I hope that the above isn’t taken as an approach to maintain control and budget over increasing performance. Quite the contrary, I believe that running the IT organization more like a business will significantly increase performance both within the IT organization itself and for the organization as a whole. At the core of this statement is a belief in competition and clarity, which I think are closely tied in this case. I think that as organizations demand more clarity and insight into what they are getting for their money that competition for those dollars will intensify between internal and external organizations. I believe that this is a good thing and that it will play a key role in driving the sort of business and technology partnership that is so often talked about but so rarely realized. I also believe that organizations are opening themselves up to making terrible mistakes if their internal executives do not prepare themselves to participate in a more competitive environment. The world is changing and as more technology savvy business people enter the working world, the unquestioned expertise in all things technology related will no longer be ceded to the IT department. Business executives who are comfortable with technology and who depend on highly sophisticated technology in their lives outside of work are going to bring with them a different set of expectations. These executives are going to be more likely to expect agility, more likely to be aware of other options, and increasingly likely to question the wisdom of the IT organization. In order to meet that challenge the IT organization is going to have to evolve if it expects to thrive. Part of that success is in thinking more like and acting more like a business that is competing for their own organizational dollars because, like it or not you are.

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.

The 3 P’s to Meeting Success

Most meetings are won or lost before they ever start. Whether it is a job interview, client presentation, or a date, most of what you can do to be successful occurs prior to the first words being spoken in the actual meeting. I have seen quite a few detailed methodologies for having successful meetings and while I think many of these “systems” have real merit and could be valuable, I’ve had problems adhering to anything that requires too much discipline or time. Over time, I’ve developed a cut-down approach for getting ready to attend meetings that I can scale from 5 minutes to a week depending on what’s at stake and the time I’ve been given. The fact is that if your complex 14 step meeting preparation process requires 24 hours and you only have 10 minutes before your meeting, you are likely to fail.  Since I am often on a tight timeline, I have scaled the many approaches to meeting preparation that I have tried down into three simple actions.   I can scale these actions to the intensity of the requirement and the time I have before the meeting occurs.

  1. Positive – Get yourself in the right mental state. Visualize success. Run through the opening to the conversation in your mind and visualize things going perfectly. People can sense confidence, so spending a little bit of time visualizing yourself succeeding can help you go into the meeting in a positive state of mind. Try to set up some down time in advance of your meeting.  During this time, you can prepare yourself mentally and ensure that you are in a positive state of mind. I try not to place two tough meetings back to back without at least a 15 minute break in between.  I want to ensure that I have some time to regroup if the first meeting is contentious. Moving from one difficult meeting to the next increases the likelihood that there will be negative bleed over.
  2. Visualize Success
  3. Prepared – Know the scope, participants, and context for the meeting.  Too many people enter meetings cold, armed only with the information that is important to them. You have to know what you are going to talk about and be prepared for logical deviations. In order to do this, you need to be able to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Without  doing this you not only risk alienating the other participants by  focusing only on your concerns, but you also risk missing the point of the meeting as a whole. Just like the date that can’t stop talking about themselves, make sure you listen during the meeting.   Make sure you prepare yourself to listen and understand by doing some basic research on “their” point of view. Successful meetings, partnerships, and relationships are bi-directional.   It allows  multiple participants to feel that they have achieved what they set out to achieve in the meeting or encounter. Putting yourself in their shoes enables you to help them meet their objectives, while you are ensuring you meet yours.
  4. Be prepared. Get the right data.
  5. Plan – Provide an agenda, even if it is only for yourself. Most meetings are held to get to specific decisions or drive an action. Structure your meeting so that it leads towards that conclusion. I make between 20-60 calls every day to talk to existing customers, prospective customers, employees, partners and other stakeholders of Millsapps, Ballinger and Associates. Prior to every one of those calls I try to make sure that at a minimum I have set a mental goal for the call. I treat each one like a meeting and I try to plan for the result I want. Without that step, I’ve noticed that calls have a tendency to drift into the social area.  While this is fine from a relationship-building standpoint, if you don’t set specific goals you generally do both parties a disservice. Recognize that every meeting participant’s time has value and structure your meetings to derive the most value from that time. Internally, we do not hold meetings without agendas – period. Even our daily scrums (15minutes) have a specific agenda and formula that is designed to get to value by the close of every meeting.
Make an Agenda or a Checklist

If you follow these three P’s, I guarantee that you will get more out of your meetings, calls, and conversations. None of the above should take so much time that the time invested isn’t well worth the results. After all, having an unproductive meeting ensures that any time you spent was wasted. In order to take my own medicine on a compressed schedule, I keep the tools required to do a quick version of the 3 P’s by my desk at all times. I keep a pad of paper on my desk where I can sketch quick goals for a call and I’ll often simply do a quick scan of a person’s LinkedIn profile, last few e-mail exchanges, or other biographical information directly before the call. Finally, I always put myself in their shoes. What are they looking for? What do they want to talk about? If you aren’t prepared for those, you cannot expect to get the results you are looking for out of your meetings.

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.