10 Big things every consultant (and you) should do

consultant

A consultant (should be) someone who offers good advice. Many times this is advice based on subject matter expertise, experience, or other unique qualifications. However having a particular subject matter expertise or experience is only one facet of being a good consultant.

Great consultants have a lot more than just expertise – they understand how to solve problems and work with people. These skills aren’t just valuable to those who want to make a living providing advice professionally, they can help anyone who is trying to make a difference in any organization.

Great consultants help:

  1. Define problems – the key to solving the problem is often finding it.
  2. Establish scope – successfully solving some problems planning to break it into manageable chunks
  3. Find solutions – sometimes the solution is right under your nose, sometimes it takes being able to think outside the box or how it has always been done.
  4. Work to deliver – great consultants don’t just give advice, they help get you to the solution. Whether you are trying to bring you consulting skills to bear on an internal project or have been brought in to find a solution…roll up your sleeves!

The four items above form a pretty straight forward problem solving but getting them right is hard. You can and I have talked about different specific approaches to these things. At a more basic level I think there are some things I think everyone who works in teams or problem solving should think about.

These 10 Big things every consultant (and you) should do are things I like to remind myself of every so often because doing these basics well establishes a foundation for success over time.

  1. Listen more – Even if you have deep subject matter expertise most consultants would be better served to spend more time listening. I like to spend 60-80% of my time listening.
  2. Keep your personal opinions/life out of it – Especially for paid consultants but even with internal staff, the job is problem solving not discussing random life events. The less time we spend discussing the slopes, gym, love life or pets the more likely we are to solve something.
  3. Keep it positive – Even when things are bad, they could typically be worse and for most of us literal life and death do not hang in the balance. Focusing on the positive keeps even the most daunting tasks from becoming overwhelming.
  4. Take notes – I’m amazed at how rare note taking is…I don’t care where you take them (paper, iPad, computer) but take them. Not sure what to write? Anything that someone is supposed to do that doesn’t occur in the meeting, key on the following phrases (We should be…, the problem is…, someone needs to…, I’ve asked for…, the next step is..) Also…share your notes. You would be amazed at how few other people took them.
  5. Focus on results not effort – Nobody wants to hear about how you are working around the clock on something. Trust me people know hard workers when they see them and your results should speak for themselves. At the end of the day, I don’t care if you worked 4 hours or 10. I want the results.
  6. Do or Do Not – I hear all the time about how to multi-task “better” and shake my head. I hate multitasking. Do one thing. Get it done. Go on to the next thing. Running back and forth lowers overall quality and lengthens time to market. I can’t prove it but I can sense it. Oh and turn off that loud music!
  7. Take breaks – Sometimes I will literally go for a walk to clear my head. Problem solving requires a lot of focus and energy. If you find your attention drifting change tasks, take a break or otherwise give your head a chance to recover from recent effort.
  8. Tackle the tough stuff in the AM -Trying to solve complex problems is hard.  Trying to do it at 1AM after a 17 hour day isn’t going to happen. I like to split my work day so that most of the thinking is done in the morning and the more mundane and social tasks are in the afternoon. Most people are simply better prepared to problem solve in the morning.
  9. Do the research and include the research – Even when you know the answer off the top of your head go find the backing information. I’ve been amazed over the years at how often the right answer last year has been overtaken by advances in technology, business process changes, etc. I also always try to write up solutions to include references. I do this so it is easier for others to understand how I arrived at the solution. Also, I often need to go back to at least one of the 30 websites I looked at when developing the solution.
  10. Plan your problem solving efforts – Too often the plan for solving a problem is simply getting everyone in the room and talking about it. The end result too often is an agreement to meet again next week. Create a plan for your planning. Include agendas for meetings with clearly stated outcomes and objectives. Close meetings by checking against those items and ensuring action items are clearly defined and attributed.

Most of my 10 Big things every consultant (and you) should do are common sense. What is on your list? Do you have a repeatable approach to problem solving? Let me know @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.

Every Kickoff needs a Pre Kickoff

Everybody loves a good kickoff meeting and a lot of planning goes into making them go well. I agree…a great kickoff meeting gets everything moving in the right direction. However, I think the process should actually be backed up a step. Many times before starting an engagement I will ask for a Pre-Kickoff meeting. The purpose of this is threefold:

  1. Facilitate discovery – How many times have you started working on a project only to find that you left a critical stakeholder out of the first three meetings? Ever discover that the solution you are working on fixes the problem at hand but exacerbates a problem somewhere else? A good Pre-Kickoff provides enough free flowing dialog to help capture these types of scoping issues.
  2. Determine the appetite for change – Every transformation is going to have real and perceived winners and losers. This is a fact. You can sugar coat it, but doing so doesn’t make that fact go away. Having an open forum helps you understand where people feel they fall. Once you get a sense of where people are actually going to fall or perceive they are going to fall in the “Winners → Loser continuum” you can work to address that perception or reality.
  3. Gather the stuff – Yep…you can’t have transformation without stuff. The bigger the effort the more stuff that is usually involved. Creating an inventory of helpful materials can be a key step in ensuring that your project isn’t a net new effort. Getting the reports people are using to manage the business today, process models, system diagrams and other items helps you to get a jump on your project. It also sends a signal that you value the input of the existing stakeholders and the effort they put in before you showed up.

Pre Kickoff Homework

I admit it, I am a pretty informal guy. I like my pre-kickoff meetings to be pretty informal events, but a little structure isn’t a bad thing. Here are ten things I ask people to bring to my pre-kickoff:

  1. Your existing reports and management tools. This helps us understand how you are managing your business today so we can help facilitate this in the future. Discussing a particular spreadsheet can often uncover the manual, multi-system processes lurking beneath a management approach.
  2. A conceptualization of the role your organization, group, etc plays in the overall value chain. Organizational transformation needs to happen in the context of the big picture. Your Pre-Kickoff should play a key role in helping people think about it in those terms.
  3. Your stuff. Got process models, system diagrams, etc? Bring them. No matter how rough they help us get insight into how you are thinking about the As-Is and To-Be environment.
  4. Your questions. If you don’t come into this meeting with some burning questions something is wrong. If you are at the meeting you will be affected by this…if you don’t ask questions I can only assume you aren’t doing your homework.
  5. Your listening ears. I try to focus on the quiet folks in my Pre-Kickoffs because they are typically being underserved. I always ask participants to remember that multi stakeholder projects require everyone’s participation to be successful and that means listening to others input in addition to providing your own. Projects too often serve the squeaky wheel.
  6. Your own voice. On the other side of the folks who can’t say enough are those who aren’t saying anything. When you are contemplating doing something,new asking questions is a natural part of the process. Verbal participation is a must.
  7. Someone who actually does the work. Pre kickoff meetings and planning meetings tend to be dominated by managers who are often not quite as up to speed on how things actually work as those in the trenches.
  8. One person instead of two. Every time you add a person to a meeting it becomes less productive. Nobody knows why but it just happens. So keep it at a minimum. I know I just said to bring more people in number seven, but really less is more so choose wisely.
  9. Food and beverage. I always get a laugh out of this because of my size, but I hate breaking for lunch during a day long session. It destroys the whole flow and many times the best bits of the meeting happen over a sandwich tray in the meeting room.
  10. An open mind. The whole point of a Pre Kickoff is to get a level set across all parties and kick the tires on the way you are thinking about potential solutions. Nothing kills this faster than someone whiteboarding the solution end to end in the first 30 minutes of the day.

In the end Pre Kickoffs are about sharing perspective, finding the gray spaces and ensuring you understand the complete problem statement. Sure that includes talking about solutions, but don’t try to “get ahead” by getting a jumpstart on the solution or you may find you’ve missed the value of the Pre Kick Off completely.

 At the end of the day a successful Pre-Kickoff may leave you with more questions than answers but that is a good thing. One of the major goals of the session should be to leave knowing you have uncovered all of the questions and identified the gray spaces so that you can plan your kickoff and project to address them.

 

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.

3 things I’ve been struggling with as I adjust to working remote.

Files, files, and more files!

Files, files, and more files!

I mentioned a few posts back that after much time and consideration we decided to go remote. So far the results have been great. I haven’t noticed any change in productivity and while I don’t get to see people in person as often as we did previously I’ve gotten used to spending a lot of time on Google Hangout, GoToMeeting and Webinars. The one thing I have noticed is that by moving my office home I’ve ended up with a mountain of technology. In fact I had to open a second home office in my basement to hold all of it.

This has not been popular at home as their are other parties in this house (wife) that feel the basement should one day be re-claimed by our family as a place where people can play a little rougher (kids) and watch TV shows that are boring (me). While I have gotten used to my expansive new office I know that this is only going to last for so long and so I’ve begun to identify the services I can use to replace some of the items I’ve brought home and planted in the basement. Here are three problems I’ve had to deal with because of going virtual and one the jury is still out on.

1. Problem: The Fax Machine – Faxes are on the way out but not quite dead. My wife has recently introduced me to eFax which she has used for years and which seems to be an enormous improvement over the huge fax machine I brought home and perched on an end table.

Solution: eFax has a corporate edition that represents a significant upgrade in capability and very little added expenditure.

2. Servers – All of our client oriented servers have long been moved to the cloud or into the Salesforce Dev Environment we maintain, but I still have two racks and about 15 servers and assorted hardware appliances that are eating up electricity at an incredible rate and supporting little internal functions. In fact our electric bill jumped $400 in the first month we went virtual and that only covered two weeks of uptime.

Solution: Everything is going to the cloud in the next three months. We advise some of the largest organizations in the world on the benefits of moving to the cloud there is no reason we should continue to have legacy infrastructure eating away at the bottom line for convenience sake. We simply hadn’t put the resources necessary to the task of migrating these items. Now we will.

3. Files – This is the one I’m still struggling with – going virtual meant bringing home  a mountain of paper. Given the type of work we do – we generate a lot of paper in order to maintain compliance with various federal, state and local requirements. This is before you start talking about all of the other things we track on paper with regard to client engagements and otherwise.

Solution – The jury is out on this one. We could spend a lot of time and effort digitizing but right now I don’t see anyway around the wall full of filing cabinets I am maintaining. Some things simply have to stay on paper and we have a paper legacy that would probably take a staff of five all summer to digitize going full time. I’m open to suggestions.

After almost three months of going remote cold turkey I have to say I’m still glad we did. It represents a tremendous savings which eventually will make us more competitive in a very competitive market space. We still haven’t ruled out having some type of permanent facility with meeting rooms and some permanent offices though. The one thing I really miss is having that big room where a development or client team can gather and brainstorm. We have done some virtual sessions but it really isn’t the same. I’ve talked to some other companies facing this issue that have essentially taken on a small space for this purpose and have heard nothing but good things. It seems like a happy medium between the benefits of being completely virtual and completely on premise.

As always, I welcome your feedback and I know there are some folks on here that feel very strongly about remote work. Let me know what you have found that works and what hasn’t. I’m particularly interested in finding a way to limit the physical intrusion of our paper legacy (maybe its as simple as a storage facility?) and solutions around collaboration for large groups in a remote environment. I’ll share what I find out in a blog post soon.

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.

Remote – Why we decided to go virtual

MB&A is going virtual

In Yahoo vs. Remote Work I worried that Yahoo might experience some brain drain for the way in which it pulled its remote workforce “privileges.” In Is remote work, too remote? I questioned if the type of work we did at MB&A required to much close in teamwork to effectively be accomplished by working remotely. I was surprised at the response from both posts. Particularly on govloop.com where some very strong opinions were shared on telework. That post prompted a response from Guy Clinch “Answering Joshua Millsapps Question: Is remote work, too remote?” which made me question some long held beliefs and do a little bit more research.

Eventually I found Remote: Office Not Required and started reading. The more I read the more I thought maybe this was something we should be considering. In fact our team sounded a lot like the folks at 37 signals. We have a strong culture, lots of high performers and as I thought more about it I was less worried about productivity and more worried about morale. The book put a lot of that fear behind me and the fact was our office was really only convenient to me. I liked having everyone close by because it was convenient for me. Everybody else was slogging an hour or more to get to Arlington, Virginia. The bottom line – the commute was terrible for everybody but me.

One of the things the book brings out is the way in which remote work refocuses manager on the real metrics worth watching -real productivity – not simply 9-5, plus a smile equals a job well done. It also points out that given the nature of the modern working world you aren’t likely to be making that big of an impact by virtue of having people do their work at your facility other than helping yourself manage their chairs. Those inclined to spend the day watching YouTube are not going to be great employees no matter what office set up you have and the likelihood you’ll notice is actually greater in a remote environment because it is so focused on productivity.

We also did some number crunching. While our immediate savings from going virtual isn’t anywhere near the 100 million dollars in annual savings reportedly saved by IBM – it was significant. So my partner and I talked about it and made the decision. As of December 1, Millsapps, Ballinger and Associates is officially virtual. We gave up our office space, our conference rooms and our hopefully our traditional attitudes. If it doesn’t work we can always go back. One thing making the move easier is how much of our infrastructure was already virtual. We have a small development environment that needed to be moved but outside of that it was just shifting phones and faxes and working with each other to manage the transition.

I have to say I’m excited by the experiment and while I’m still a little bit nervous about things will turn out I have to say I think it is going to be a smashing success. I’ll keep you all in the loop on what we learn a long the way. In the interim if you are considering going remote in whole or in part – check out Remote: Office Not Required – it convinced me that going remote was the best decision we could make for our long term 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.

Unlocking the full value from a change initiative

unocking blog 6-18

I had another conversation the other day about the value landscape.  I’ve talked about this before and I wanted to touch on it a little bit again because I think it’s applicable to almost any type of project that you do, especially around business intelligence and anything within the analytics realm. I’m going to use Troux for this example. Troux, for those of you that don’t know, is an enterprise portfolio management software. It’s got a lot of specific use cases that help organizations get a fairly rapid return on investment. So an organizational command will acquire the Troux tool. They’ll get involved in specific programs to achieve their goals and pretty soon they’ve made this great progress. What happens as time goes on is they sort of lose a little bit of steam. The low hanging fruit that was there at the beginning goes away and then they start to wonder, “Well how come I’m not still getting the same benefit that I was getting before?”

I think that one of the things that organizations run into is that they haven’t thought a lot about how to take that information and use it to make a lot of incremental returns. What I mean by that is one of the big use cases organizations have for Troux is to look at their IT portfolios and figure out

  • Where do I have redundancy
  • Where do I have things that I can consolidate

So at the beginning there’s this huge value for a lot of organizations because it’s a unique way of looking a problem they haven’t seen previously. They get all this value really rapidly and then they start to slow down because they use the tool to make these big decisions but they’re not embedding that intelligence into their ability to make smaller decisions. That intelligence they use for the big decisions can also help them be able to make decisions farther down within their organization. It will get them that same return on investment only distributed out amongst more folks. This happens all the time.

I’m using Troux as an example because it’s easy to talk to but I think almost any business intelligence activity that goes on within an organization has this problem. It’s usually the impetus, some big problem that you’re trying to solve, some particular thing you’re trying to get insight into and there’s this big bang value proposition that goes out. Then unless the organization takes and figures out how to leverage that information within their processes, they stop getting that same big return. I think this is one of the biggest missed opportunities that we have within modern organizations.

We’ve got one of the most highly educated work forces that we’ve ever had and we’ve got all these capabilities to do advanced analytics and yet we haven’t really taken advantage of any of that to the degree that we could. In this example of having analytics that maybe get used by an executive but they’re never driven down into the business processes and to users who are probably quite capable of leveraging those to make decisions. They’re either unavailable or the processes don’t dictate that they leverage them. There’s this huge opportunity to capture value that is currently not being executed on and it’s simply because we’ve brought the capability into the organization to make better decisions but we haven’t built our processes to take advantage of that. I think it’s something that as you go through large change initiatives you need to really look at:

  • What are the phases of  this
  • How is this going to drive value in our organization
  • Where and when am I going to get ROI
  • Really think about what happens when I’m in my post implementation world

I wrote a blog post awhile back about living in a post-Troux world but I think it’s just as applicable to any of these large systems that you implement that are supposed to give you greater insight into what you’re doing. You have to build it into your processes if you want to get all the value from it.

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.

Context: Looking beyond the obvious

One of the things that is pretty interesting as you spend some time talking to people about how they look at information to make decisions and what are the things that are really important is you hear about the power of context.  So to give a great example we’re working with an organization to create comprehensive security assessments. We want a way for them to understand, across all of their facilities, what are the critical factors in ensuring they were as secure as thy could be. This means what are all things that were directly related to the security of the facilities themselves like:

  • Are the fences in good condition?
  • What kind of fences do you have?
  • Do you have closed circuit televisions and where do you have it?
  • What type of policies do you have for people entering the building, background checks, and security planning

All of these different factors and an immense number of other things go into securing a facility. While those things are all important and this particular organization had specific standards, policies, and all these different things it had to adhere that went into how the organization was supposed to secure these facilities, it wasn’t taking into account some critical factors in how secure those facilities really were. So it was the contextual data that as they looked to plan what they were going to do in terms of shoring up their security, it couldn’t just be did they meet all of the standards alone.

While the standards are good and they help you get an understanding of how prepared you might be in a bad situation or if your existence is in a perennial troublesome state, it didn’t really give you a complete picture. To get a complete picture you had to understand the contextual data. You had to understand crime statistics. So if a facility that is in an area where, compared to the national average, there are an extraordinarily high number of homicides, violent crimes, assaults, thefts, and things like that, well all the sudden those physical security assessment characteristics take on a whole new meaning. It becomes a much more critical thing to have fences when those fences are the only thing separating you from an outside world that is very scary. So as the organization looked to prioritize where it was going to spend its physical security resources, the most critical factor wasn’t just the status of the assessment itself but it was the context at which that status existed.

Similarly it’s not just about the facilities themselves but also about what the value of the things in those facilities is. It’s hard to say that a facility with four people requires less security infrastructure than one with a hundred because everybody is important. On the other hand I think that for most people if you look at a facility that’s got 300 people, a daycare facility, a bunch of other high value assets, or just a mass of people, those are places where you might want look to secure them earlier. Other factors might be things like the age of the facilities themselves, the age and time of the last security assessment, or the last building upgrade. These area all factors that go into helping you understand just what the real status is as opposed to simply looking at do they meet the criteria or not. It just doesn’t give you enough information to make decisions.

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.

Why we built ExAM (our Salesforce.com based Facilities Operations & Security application)

This is the story of how we got involved in developing the ExAM application for Salesforce and the problems it solves for facilities managers, security personnel and executives. Below is a transcription of the above video:

Yesterday’s Salesforce event at the Mandarin in DC got me excited to talk about Salesforce but I also wanted to talk a little bit what got us engaged in working with Salesforce. A few years back we were faced with a really difficult problem to solve. We had a client that had facilities all over the United States that had to be maintained, managed, and assessed for security. Unfortunately, the cost to fly to all those places, put staff on the ground, and get it all done in the time that was allocated was just not going to be feasible in the long term. So we started working with them and the first thing that we did was help them do a better job of capturing the data. We then helped them standardize it, looked at best practices around facilities management and security assessments, looked at the various guidelines that were out there within federal and commercial best practice, and began to develop an assessment that would enable them to understand how each of those facilities was being protected ad secured.

The next step was to figure out how to get the information to the right people. We had already figured out how we want to get the data in and we understand the information that we need to make decisions about physical security across these 200 facilities nationwide. Now we need to figure out how do we get it out to these people? How do we ensure that everyone has the access that they need, that they are able to do reporting across all of the facilities but yet still be able to understand their security posture on a facility by facility basis? So what we did was go out to the marketplace and we found Salesforce and salesforece.com. We realized this was really an incredible solution for the problem that we had. It enabled us, through a secure web interface, to deliver all over the United States. It allowed us to rapidly build value for the client because we were able to, in 90 days develop an enterprise application. Something that previously with the similar requirements had taken almost a year to develop. So it was just a very exciting discovery and we didn’t have to give up anything.

We were still able provide it to them in the exact look and feel that they wanted. It looked like the rest of their organization’s user interface. There wasn’t anything that they really had sacrificed to get there. Now they had this really incredible ability to understand their facilities nationwide in a way that they never had before whether it was looking at a map and understanding scoring at any particular school or just being able to glance at a map and see regular green and ask how am I doing and focus in there. It’s just a very easy way to accomplish that.

We were also able to tie in all that best practices and manage all the documentation that goes into one of these types of engagements. There’s always the why and not just why but how do I work with other people, so collaboration and understanding what other people are doing was also important. This tool gave us the ability to have teams be able to follow each other and understand that even if they weren’t geographically connected, you could understand what somebody else was working on. If they made a change to their assessment of a facility, added pictures, documents, or anything changed in their report, we were able to know about it. It was really groundbreaking when you think about it.

It wasn’t just us delivering a solution, it was us empowering those users to build reports for themselves and for them to be able to do their own mining of the data. You come in and you begin to understand this platform and yea, there’s some effort that goes into getting the information in and understanding what information you want to look at, but there really is an opportunity rapidly create value. You create this value not just at an enterprise level with analytics that mean something to the one group at the top that came in and helped work with us at the beginning of the project but for people to come in on their own. They can create their own analytics and make something that works for the way that they want to do their work. That’s the part that came out of the box with the Salesforce platform and we just leveraged it. So we were able to drop in all this expertise and subject matter expertise around facilities management, security, and BI but it was all enabled by the platform. So we were able to take what we knew and get there very rapidly and it’s an ongoing process.

The nice thing about this is it allows us to continue to tailor really rapidly. So when it becomes about more than just security assessments and you want to track visitors or you want to do something that is operational you can do that. You can have people come in, register through a kiosk, and then report out. You’re talking about something that was developed in three hours after a client conversation. Again it’s just a very simple way to get access to this so if you want to learn more about this go to exam4schools.com. That is exam, 4 the number, schools .com and take a look at some of the work we’re doing. This is specific in this case to the school environment but this is something that is applicable across all facilities. You could do this if you’re a large retail organization or a large federal organization. A lot of this is drawn directly on federal security standards. It’s all best practice so I hope you’ll get out and take a look at it and please share back what you 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.