Understanding portfolio thinking to improve your organization

Meaningful Buckets

Categorize information into meaningful “buckets”

I think one of the things that I see more often than anything else is organizations struggling with getting information in the right places to make the right decisions. There’s a sense that they’re not sure how they’re performing or it’s hard for the organization to understand how it’s doing. A lot of times when you get in and you dig through it, one of the issues that they have is they’re struggling with looking at things from a portfolio perspective. Oftentimes they’ve got great information on an item by item basis, whether that’s assessments of facilities, particular IT investments, a specific system, application or an initiative but where they struggle is knitting those things together into a whole that is meaningful. The have a hard time understanding things like:

  • How do these things pull together to accomplish our objectives?
  • How are we performing across these items?
  • How do I sit at the top of these things and understand what’s working and what’s not?

I think that as you look at those problems, you’ll notice that they are all portfolio oriented issues. The real struggle is in taking all of that detail that you have in pockets or in things that you manage on an item by item basis, and coming up with an appropriate way to pull that information together. Particularly if you’ve got lots of those types of items, categorize them in a way that allows you to put them in meaningful buckets for analysis; sometimes from multiple different views for different. I think that’s one of the biggest challenges that organizations face.

You look at so much of what you see in the news, at least in the DC area around sequestration and things like that, and one of the things that floats to the surface is that executives are struggling. They are struggling with the question of how do they continue to provide services in the face of the sort of economic hardships that are being passed across not only the public sector but the private sector as well? Certainly in the private sector this is a huge issues as well because as you attempt to achieve competitive advantage, one of the things that you have to be able to do is look across all the things that you do and identify what works and what doesn’t so that you can make the types of decisions that will enable you to continue to perform at a high level. I think the first step like with many things is recognizing that you have a problem. I think that is something that you can only do by asking yourself a couple different questions starting with:

  1. Do I understand the individual items that I manage? If you can’t look at a particular thing, a facility, an investment, or whatever it is, and understand it in a way that would help you make a decision about that particular thing, rolling it into a pool of other things isn’t going to help you. It’s just going to take you farther back. So I think that’s the first question and I think more often than not the answer is yes. A lot of organizations are great at the detail of a particular thing. The trouble comes when they try to roll those things together.
  2. Do I have a way to understand these things If I pull them all together?  Do I need to come up with subgroupings of these things?  The answer to that is almost always no.  When I say “Do I have a way to understand these things when I group them together or create subgroups out of them,” oftentimes the understanding part is the hurdle. By understand, I mean do we have a way to answer meaningful organizational questions when we group these things together? Do we understand how the sum of these things plays towards organizational goals? I think that is where a lot of organizations have hurdles.

Now this is a thread I will pick up on a few times over the next few weeks. I will try to string these things together in a way so that you can sort of step through them and get a better understanding of how portfolio thinking can help you as an organization go from managing at an item by item level to understanding what you have at the aggregate level. Hopefully than you can use that understanding to make better decisions at an item by item basis as well as in total.

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.

Wanted: Correct Solutions delivered compellingly

Wanted Blog

I think that one of the most common mistakes made when delivering a product or deliverable is how easy it is to get so wrapped up in the correctness of the content and meeting the letter of the requirement, that we forget to make things interesting. We forget to take a little bit of time to make our content compelling. As a management consultancy organization, this is a rule that we break all the time. When you break it, you run the risk of not giving your client all the value that they could have had. Now some people will say, “Well you’re just getting paid to provide the answer.” While I think that’s a hundred percent correct, there’s more to it than that.

A lot of times you’re called in to deal with a complex question or an organization is trying to achieve a particular goal. They ask you to come in and look at things so you evaluate a lot of different factors to come up with a result. In theory, it shouldn’t have to be compelling it should just have to be right. Unfortunately, that is not how the world works. It doesn’t just have to be the right idea. In a lot of cases, particularly in very large organizations, it has to win in the marketplace of ideas because a lot of times you’re not the only group that’s working on the problem. Now you may be the only group working on the problem from any particular angle but large organizations pain points oftentimes get addressed not just by one group, but multiple groups. Multiple groups will recognize the pain points and they’re all attempting solutions to address it from their particular angle. Oftentimes with the assumption that if they’re the ones that address it, they’ll be able to avoid a certain amount of organizational pain. This by virtue of being able to have crafted the solution. So I think it’s really important to look at things and go, “I need this to not only give the right answers, but I need it to be something that people will read the entire report through.”

You need to put things into the reports that will make it interesting to people that are notonly cutting fat, cut and dry, just the facts man type of people, but also to people that need to be pulled through a document. Those people need some visual cues. Maybe they need some facts and statistics that make it more relevant to them. Things that make it personal. In order to do this you need to know enough about whose going to being reading or seeing your report or presentation to make it compelling to them. Those are questions that need to get answered just as much as whatever the evaluation, assessment or particular problem is that you’re trying to address.  One of the things we’ve done more and more is utilize things like info graphics. I’ve included an example here.

This info graphic was developed to help us with a report we’ve been working on with a bunch of schools to address school safety issues. This was meant to spur action. There’s a lot of data that gets collected through the ExAM for schools process and we want people to go through and really take a hard look at those things. So we set up this info graphic with that goal in mind. Obviously we’ve got other things that we do throughout a full report but it’s meant to drive people to work through it by setting up the idea that it’s very important that they do so.

I’m actually very interested in feedback on the info graphic itself as well as the idea that you need to cater to people that might not go through an entire report that you deliver just because it’s not interesting. I know that a lot of people come from sort of the old school belief that people should do it because they believe it’s the right thing to do, it’s their job, etc. but that isn’t the case across the board. While those people are going to do it whether I make it interesting or not, it’s also really important you make the people that might otherwise only be casually interested to make it through it as well.  So if it was important enough for someone to engage you to do something, then it’s probably worth it on your side to make it as compelling as possible.

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.

Assessments: Dealing with information overload

May 28th Blog

I was thinking the other day about how much of our lives really revolve around assessments.  Almost from your first days in schools, you’re being assessed.  I have a daughter that is in kindergarten and one of the first in depth meetings that I had with her teacher was about an assessment of her. We covered how she was performing in comparison to other kids within the school, the state, and the nation.  The idea behind this assessment was to provide us a feedback mechanism to help us understand where she is and where she wants to go. These assessments continue essentially throughout the rest of your school years.

Once you leave there you get into the work world where your assessments continue whether that be annually, quarterly or whatever their basis is. If you really think about your life, you are surrounded by assessments, for example, checklists. Checklists are essentially reminders of what you need/want to do but if you measure them, they are an assessment of what you have done. These assessments are everywhere in your life. It’s especially seen in governments lately. Legislation has come down that tries to understand and manage better our government resources.  In order to understand that we have to use assessments to see how they are being used now and then analyze them to see how they could be used better.

There are some things that you don’t necessarily see as assessments but they are embedded in there if you look close enough. PortfolioStat is something that was intended to assess an organization’s large investments. You can use it to ensure that if they were going poorly that either corrective action was taken or there was the opportunity to cut them off before they bled into everything else.  Now something that I hear a lot of in both the public and private sector is a need for some sort of form strategy. We’ve got all these forms that we use to assess things by but they aren’t being utilized to the best of their abilities. It’s important to remember that the forms themselves aren’t the purpose. They are simply collections of information. The purpose in many cases of those forms is to assess something. It’s to understand a particular thing, whether it’s an application for a permit you’re trying to get or maybe it’s a person’s application for a job that’s assessing them in the context of what the requirements are. All of those things are talked about as forms but really, they’re assessments.

Now the reason I’m bringing this up is to get back to the idea about what information should I be managing? You have to realize there’s a cost to everything. I think that when you look at it in terms of assessments rather than forms, it makes you think about why do I need this information rather than focusing on automating the information that you currently have.  It’s a really important distinction because automating it may reduce the cost to gather it but it won’t reduce it as much as not gathering it if you don’t need it. It still takes time.  Even the most automated system out there won’t help you because if you don’t need that information for something, than don’t gather and it don’t assess it.  You don’t need to further clutter your informational picture.

I think so many of us function in a daily information overload state. There’s so much that comes at us. It can get really hard to discern what are the important things.  Anyway I think that if you start to think about the why behind the information that you’re trying to gather, you’ll do a much better job of choosing the things that you spend time from an informational standpoint gathering, managing, and performing analysis on. You’ll also reduce cost by a function of that. So I think assessments are something that need more of a conceptual approach to information gathering than anything else. You start to think about them as “I’m getting this information for this specific reason,” rather than “This is the body of information I need to collect because I’ve always collected it,” I think you’ll be more cost efficient and more useful.  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.

Dealing with the oversaturation of your inbox

Email

I get a lot of email.  Between the different things that I’m involved in with my kids, friends, work and random other things I’m engaged in, it translates into lots of mail. It also sometimes translates into important things that probably should be kept track of but due to the sheer volume of emails incoming daily, isn’t always the easiest task. I was brought face to face with this reality again, not because I missed something but because of the effect missing someone can have on somebody.  That person was me.

Recently I’ve been working on getting a meeting with somebody that is fairly important to a business venture we’re developing. I’ve been trying to set up a mutually agreeable calendar date for a while and then finally I got an agreement for today.  I told him that I couldn’t wait to get together and how happy I was that he was going to be in DC.   The only times I couldn’t get together today were from 9-10 and 10-11. So a couple more email exchanges go back and forth then finally an email comes back saying the time he could and wanted to get together was from 10 to 11.  I read it and I was really disappointed because my current 10-11 meeting was a meeting that I couldn’t move. So I sit there and I spend about an hour trying to figure out if I should I try to move my current 10-11 which was also a very important and hard to get meeting.

I didn’t want to cancel the meeting that I already had.  It’s something that I just really hate doing. I think it’s really unfair to do that especially considering this was late last night at the last minute. So finally after much deliberation I decided to just write back and let him know that I just can’t do it at that time. I asked if there was any way to do it at the end of my current 10-11.  So after I had spent the better part of an hour stressing out and going back and forth over this thing and I send it back. Two minutes later I get and email saying, “Ok great! Love to do it and looking forward to seeing you at 11!”  So I had spent all this time being very concerned about something that my guess is, the person on the other end of the line didn’t put a whole lot of thought into.

There are a couple things you can take away from this. One of which is that it reinforces the point that if you have something really important, maybe you should pick up the phone an call them. What didn’t come through in the email is the nuance of it. I thought that the person was making a very serious point that that was the only time they had today so it was then or never. In actuality as I saw by the reply that was not the case. Maybe I could have said anytime during the day today and it would have been fine.  So it highlights the fact that while email is great for a lot of things, you don’t get all the nuance that you get from a phone conversation, Skype, Facetime, etc.

The other takeaway for me was making sure that I don’t miss any important facts due to skimming or skipping when trying to deal with the massive influx of digital communications on a daily basis.  I know that over time, you get copied on things all the time. Maybe as that continues to happen you read less and less details than you would otherwise and the tendency is to do a lot of skimming.  I’m sure that I’ve missed a lot of important things due to this trap. Basically I think that with email, especially when you get to the point where you’re cc’ed on so many things, you need some way of making sure that you don’t miss the important things. One way of doing that is to reduce the amount of things that you’re copied on and try to get people to let you know some way if it’s important.  If I’m on an email to keep me in the loop and there’s something that I really need to read, I need some way of knowing its importance.

I think one of the problems that has occurred over time is that in a lot of organizations the easiest thing to do is to add people to the email and allow people to opt into conversations if they so choose. This way people are eventually able to keep themselves in the loop if they want to be. The problem that this causes is over time it becomes harder to separate the things that are really important from the things that aren’t.  So this is one of the areas where it’s really nice to have a sort of collaboration capability in place where you’re able to opt into things. This is something that Salesforce excels at. If you look at chatter, it allows you to opt into ongoing conversations that are coming through the newsfeed. At the same time if you really need to get in touch with someone specifically, you can direct an email or something like that to them. It helps creates another tier in your communications strategy that allows you to keep people from dismissing things that might be important because they assume it’s part of this large stream of communications. So I’m curious as always to hear about anyone else’s ideas for how to manage the everyday overflow of digital communications.

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.

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.

Vanilla Ice had it right: STOP, Collaborate and Listen

Vanilla Ice

One of the things that I’ve realized over the last few years is that despite the fact that I’ve gained more experience, I’ve done more formal educations, taken trainings, and built a lot of personal capabilities, I seem to have trended towards more collaborative decision making. I now spend more time talking to people about decisions before I make them then I ever had previously. On some level I think that this is counterintuitive. You would think that as you gain more skill in something and you begin to understand some things better that you would probably spend less time speaking with others before you make a decision. My assumption would be that you have the expertise to make those decisions yourself but that hasn’t been the case.

What I’ve found is that as I learn more, I’ve also learned more about what I don’t know. I’ve come to value other people’s perspectives a lot more. As you get into making complex business decisions, I think you have to fight continually against your own biases. I for one thing know that I have a tendency to be extraordinarily optimistic about everything. If I don’t have other people there to balance me, I might make decisions that are based on my tendency to look at the big picture and make a decisions that maybe doesn’t take into account some of the things that might go wrong. So I need people to help balance me in that sense.

It’s amazing to me sometimes how differently someone will look at a problem just based on their past experience and I think that’s something that people really need to recognize. So much of our own decision making framework is influenced by decisions we made in the past and the results of those decisions. I think it’s important to be really careful about the lessons that you’ve learned from past decisions because you don’t really have the scope of experience to understand if you’re taking away the right things. If you, based on a set of factors, decided to invest in a project and that project turned out poorly, you might say that if presented with those facts again you won’t make the same decision. The problem with this is that the last time could have been a unique set of circumstances where things didn’t work out. It could be that in most cases those same set of circumstances would have led to a smashing success. So I guess what I’m saying is that you’ve got to be careful about the lessons that you’ve learned  from the past because they’re based on very unique sets of circumstances and not always going to lead to the same destination.  This is where having a strong collaboration base comes in handy.

You have a very strong tool at your disposal if you maintain a network of people that you can talk with about things and you’re able to bring in their lessons learned and their decisions making frameworks. I know that when I look at a problem or decision that I’m making I immediately begin to narrow down the field of approaches to solving that problem or addressing that decision. Again this process is based on the things that are in my personal tool kit, what my experiences have been, and the types of approaches that have been successful for me.  I don’t narrow down my approaches by explicit decision, but simply because I don’t have them. So I end up leaving out a whole host of possibilities that otherwise would have been there had I spoken to people who had a broader experience. So having the opportunity to collaborate with more people has allowed me to take in a much greater set of possible approaches than I would have otherwise considered.

So all of those things have pushed me to develop this more collaborative decision making process than I previously had. Even though on the surface at least with my growing experience and expertise I should be able to make more of those decisions without outside help, I’ve actually trended more towards that collaborative process. I really do think that there are a lot of great things that come with experience, a better understanding of situations, and issues but one of the things that you can lose if you’re not careful is that broader spectrum of experience. I think that’s a real trap that senior executives need to avoid.  They need to be careful on how heavily they weight their own experience because you may be closing off a world of possibilities that otherwise you’d be able to take advantage of.  So I’m a big believer in reaching out to your personal network, establishing a group of trusted advisors within your circle of friends, and colleagues so that you can have somebody to bounce things off of and get access to that broader range of experience. As always I’m very interested in what other people’s experiences are in this area and what they 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.