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.

Salesforce.com: Flexibility, scalability, and security

EXAM logo

Today is a pretty big day for Millsapps, Ballinger & Associates. As many of you know, we have been doing a lot of work in Salesforce and in the force.com platform. Almost all that work to this point has been on behalf of other organizations as part of developing our privately listed app. We’ve been working with these various organizations to extend it to help them make better decisions to support data calls, help people get to enterprise value out of data calls and data collection efforts, and to help organizations re-platform low to medium complexity applications to reduce costs. Those are the big three use cases.

As of yesterday, we’ve now taken our privately listed application and made it public and we are officially in the app store. Any organization can begin to embed our unique value proposition into their organization. We are joining 450 other independent software vendors including very large organizations like BMC and their RemedyForce application as well as other small boutique businesses. In fact if you look at out of the more than 1800 enterprise class apps that are in the app store, the top ten are a really mixed bag of very large vendors and very small vendors. I think that in and of itself highlights the power of the platform.  That is what attracted us to it.

Building a truly enterprise application is very difficult and we’ve done quite a bit of work in that area. We were amazed at how quickly we were able to build a secure and truly scalable application that could meet the needs of our largest clients, which include some of the largest private sector companies and public sector organizations in the world. So it is a proud day for us. We’re very excited about what we believe this is going to do for organizations when this is global.

Public sector or private sector, everybody is facing a budget crunch. Fortunately we’re at a really unique point in technology where almost every organization has the ability to significantly reduce costs.  I’ve talked extensively about using things like the Troux enterprise portfolio management capability to find those areas of savings, look for redundancies, and look for things that can be re-platformed. There’s a whole bunch of work done in that area with the right approach. From there you need to take action because without acting on your findings there will be no savings. So you have to figure out a way to retire those applications in your portfolio that don’t make sense, find a way to re-platform the things that do you have, and find a way to reduce costs and this is a really great way to do it.

I think that a lot of organizations are coming to the same conclusion that we did, which is that if you’re going to build a new application that’s for resale and add it to the marketplace like we did or a custom application for your organization, you absolutely have to look at Salesforce or force.com as a possible place to support that application. Without it you don’t have the server and infrastructure spend that you’d otherwise have. There’s almost no organization that can get the type of economies of scale that Salesforce is getting on your behalf. It’s almost impossible to have the type of scalability, security, and flexibility that you can get with the software as a service application on top of force.com that you’re going to be able to get on your own because you are simply not buying things on that scale. So I’m curious where others see their organization moving, re-platforming to save money, or building out solutions. If you haven’t taken a look at it it’s really worth taking a look at Salesforce and the force.com platform. I know that we’ve been amazed at the ease of use, scalability, and flexibility that it has provided us.

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.

Troux Worldwide Conference 2013: Day 1

Unfortunately due to some travel issues I missed some of the morning sessions at the Troux Worldwide Conference and apparently I missed some absolutely spectacular presentations. They  included: “The New Normal” by Peter Hinssen and “The Journey to Business Value” by Bill Cason, but I did get there in time to catch some really good presentations. So I wanted to run you through some of the highlights of what I did get to see.  I got into the conference about noon, just in time to grab lunch.  It’s being held at the Four Seasons in downtown Austin which is just a spectacular venue and I can’t say enough about how nicely put together the event is. Added to that, the quality of the presentations alone really makes it well worth coming.

So the first presentation I was able to attend was “Enterprise Delivery of EA Services-Cargill’s Revised Approach” put forward by Michael Dockham, an enterprise architect at Cargill. On a side note, what’s amazing about some of these speakers is not just the success that they’re having leveraging Troux to achieve business goals and to help do enterprise portfolio management, but it’s in the scale of the organizations that they’re able to achieve this with such speed. Take Cargill for instance. If Cargill were a publicly traded company, it would be the 12TH largest company in the world. If you want to talk about complexity, they have 75 business units, they are in 65 countries, they’ll have been in business for 150 years in 2015, and they’ve got more than a 1000 locations.  As Dockham was running through some of these statistics and I was thinking about what it takes to get an organization that large to adopt and get value from something, it’s a truly daunting and difficult task.

It was interesting to hear him talk about their history with enterprise architecture which really got rolling in 1994. It gives you a sense of the degree of complexity and the level of effort required to be successful in a large organization, but it’s also mind blowing when he talks about their pace of progress. He talks about the last few years and the speed at which they were able to get to value and especially in the last year, as they went through the Troux implementation and what it meant for their organization. He went on about just how transformational this technology could be within their organization, how this massive increase in capability happened in just one year in an organization that’s been working at this EA since 1994.

I thought some of the really important insights that he had were around business value. They have a CIO that comes from the business side, who has been in charge of food services and just recently, one of the largest SAP implementations in the world. He talks about his keys to winning, being driven by business value, being trusted by the business, and being an organization of choice. This organization of choice idea was, to me, a really nice way to talk about providing enough value to your business side customers so that they want to come to you. That was one of the things that he kept coming back to in talking about the various portfolios.  They’ve got technology portfolios, application portfolios, business strategy portfolios, and their ability to link those things together and really provide the ability to make decisions faster and with a higher degree of confidence, which is clear business value.  He made it his business to have people coming to him to do that.  So with this in mind, he gave a to do list for EA leaders. One of the things it included was not discounting the effort it takes to populate the data, which I thought was a great point. It’s something that people spend so much time thinking about, their method, or their approach, and their technologies. He highlighted that a lot of the real effort is in stitching together the information you’re going to need to be able to make ongoing decisions. You need to focus on the results.

He also talked a lot about capturing data at the right level to answer stakeholder questions, which presumes you know what questions they’re going to ask. Another point he mentioned was having a communications pro to be able to communicate out the type of information that you have. There’s so much specialized language and methodology and approach in EA and they help you deal with the complexity of the business problem that you’re facing. All the value you can create for your organization is nothing if it is not understand by your business.

Another great talk I attended was given by Klaus Isenbecker who is an IT architect for Bayer, which was entitled “The Secret Ingredients of Success.” To build on what Dockham was saying about the importance of communication to the business side, he made a very similar point. He said that oftentimes EAs get very impressed with their own information and complexity of it and things then get lost in translation.  He mentions having this “Aha!” moment when he saw the light of EA and what it could do for the business. He then made the mistake classic of going and grabbing somebody on the business side, telling them his revelation, and then getting this blank look from them. He said it was a lesson learned because the person that he spoke to didn’t really care about all of that EA stuff, what he cared about was the answers that he needed to know and that was it. I thought it was a really great point. I think sometimes there’s a tendency to be overly impressed with your own cleverness, with how exciting it is to be able to connect all these dots, and I think for a great many people, especially in these great big organizations they don’t really care about all that. They care about if you can you answer their questions and that’s it.  Klaus’s talk was probably one of the least focused on Troux itself that I’ve seen at one of these conferences but it was incredibly valuable from[JC1]  the standpoint of providing insight into what are the soft side skills required to enable transformation.

The final presentation from day 1 that I want to highlight is, “See the forest from the trees!….Shifting IT’s focus toward Investment Planning,” by Julie Standley, who is the Director of IT Demand Management from American Electric Power. This was yet another absolutely insightful talk.  American Electric Power is an older company, 106 years old, 15 billion dollars in revenue, and 57 billion dollars in assets. There’s a lot of complexity brought on by the fact that it’s both in the regulated space and a competitive space. She talked about having to maintain two very separate sets of plans for people, processes, and technology within the organization to help manage the differences in those business models and what it means for managing those types of large IT portfolios that are required to run a very large power business in the US. She also discussed being a CIO in that organization in a circumstance where there’s one large pot of money and there’s a lot of masters out there that need to be served. So how do you manage all that priority and how do you do investment planning in that environment? You have to be able to work down the chain from strategy to the technologies enabling that strategy, and really using Troux, and management, and architecture, and investment portfolio planning as a way to bring the company silos of operations together. It’s really a unique vantage point for through which to view the organization because for most of the rest of the company, the view is very dependent on the particular silo in which they reside. So it was really very exciting to listen to her talk about how the organization was able to use Troux to bridge the gaps between those silos and facilitate information flow to help the entire organization perform better, but also to manage the type of compartmentalize complexity that is required by the regulatory environment that they exist in.

So all in all it was just an absolutely great day. I can’t say enough about how much you can learn in something like this because they’re all talking about, at least in cases of most of these presentations, trying to solve the same problems that other large organizations are solving. You can learn a lot because there’s no marketing to speak to these issues. These are your own peers, in their own words, describing how they’re solving their problems. I think it’s just if you happen to be in this business, that it’s something that’s worth coming to see. I’m not saying that you can’t learn a lot by talking to the people that sit within any sales organization or engineering organization that you might be dealing with, but Troux is a great example of having a lot of great practitioners who also happen to be great sales folks, great engineers, and all that sort of stuff and it’s always nice to hear it from customers mouths. That’s the big focus of this event, bringing together those people or at least that’s my take away from it, so hope you enjoyed and I’m off to enjoy another great day today. Hope to see some of you here in the 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.

Tomorrow’s Webinar: Think big, start small, scale fast

Back in December, I interviewed General Dale Meyerrose about organizational transformation and leadership. I posted the three-part interview here, here, and here. When asked about his approach for managing change, General Meyerrose answered with “Think Big, Start Small, Scale Fast.”

Tomorrow, Dale is going to be giving a free webinar on the subject of Think Big, Start Small, Scale Fast in conjunction with MB&A Academy, the eduction arm of my company, Millsapps, Ballinger & Associates.

Date: Friday, February 1, 2013
Time: 12:00 – 1:00pm, EST

To register for the webinar, click 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.

Webinar Recap: Here Comes the Next Big Thing: Adopting New Technologies is Inevitable, Doing So Successfully Isn’t

I’m so excited that my company’s Webinar Series is becoming more established. We received a lot of positive feedback on our last one.  Instructor Bob Daniel gave an extremely perceptive explanation of why “Adopting new technologies is inevitable. Doing so successfully isn’t”.  Every day new, “latest, greatest” technologies are announced and organizations, whether from within or without, are driven to adopt them. Unfortunately, the all-too-common experience is that the anticipated benefits never materialize. Typically, the focus is entirely on “successful” installation and vendor training. While important, these steps simply aren’t enough to assure you’ll get the return on investment you want (and need). Bob began his Webinar diving into these issues.

In this Webinar, Bob Daniel discusses the motivations driving the adoption of new technologies, the factors that disrupt adoption, and what you really need to do to be successful. Drawing from decades of experience in new technology adoption with both private and public sector clients, Bob will highlight real-world adoption pitfalls and provide practical means to avoid them, as well as to recover from them.  At the end of the hour, you’ll have a framework and set of tools you can use to build success into your technology adoption programs.  Check out the following clip to get an idea of the full range of advice covered in this Webinar.

If you missed Bob’s Webinar and would like access to the full video please e-mail me at josh.millsapps@mbaoutcome.com. Also, don’t miss out on our next Webinar where the Honorable Dale Meyerrose will give us insight into his problem solving techniques honed over years of experience in leadership, cyber security, information technology, intelligence and military matters. Click here to sign up!

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 Path to Value: How to stay focused on results

the path to value

How to navigate the “Path to Value” without getting derailed by trivialities

I frequently use the phrase “Path to Value” to describe the approach organizations need to take in order to ensure they maximize the value they get from their transformational efforts. Large scale modernizations, enterprise architecture efforts, and enterprise projects all have a tendency to get derailed in the minutia and details of execution. Getting where you want to go means staying laser focused on the big picture while carefully navigating the line between responsible deviation and unreasonable scope creep. The Path to Value for me embodies an approach to project and organizational thinking that begins and ends with a focus on value. Methodologies are great, best practices are helpful, but the most important thing you can focus on is your own organizational value. One of the great things that has come from the proliferation and acceptance of best practices has been that there is a broad market of patterns and methodologies available for executing on almost any type of transformational effort. The down side is that none are tailored for your organization and while many have a host of highly competent, exceptionally intelligent, and dedicated folks maintaining them, they are often overly complete. By this I mean that most of these are developed over time to address broader and broader problem sets and subtract more and more detail away in an attempt to fit the broader pattern. I say all of this because while I believe in best practice and the judicious use of methodologies and standards, I also believe these are guides, templates, and starting points and that they should always be bound by a common sense approach that puts value first.

Following “The Path to Value” means always looking for the value of the intended activity for the organization. One of the reasons I’m such a big fan of organizations focusing on their Operating Model as a starting point for implementing a decisions support structure is that it enables organizations to significantly reduce the amount of unnecessary and duplicative governance they have in place, while enabling the same at the appropriate level for the organization. The same can be said for my belief in a “Thin Layer” of information that provides just enough to facilitate decision-making and reduces unnecessary burden and cost to maintain the information necessary to make decisions. All of these are born out of my belief that the “Path to Value” is about maintaining the simplest possible process and informational structure necessary to support your efforts. If you apply this approach to enterprise projects and transformation efforts I think that you can better stay on the Path to Value by following three simple rules:

  1. Think big, start small, and scale fast: This is General Meyerrose’s maxim for organizational value and I believe it is a core principle that will help you stay on the path to value. The idea of thinking on an enterprise scale but proving your point via proofs of concept that can then be scaled rapidly is a powerful one that draws on practical experience but also has roots in current research into organizational innovation.
  2. Move in Sprints, Measure in sprints: I am a big believer in managing performance via metrics and I think there is a place for high level performance metrics. However, transformation efforts need short-term goals and objectives to stay on course. Setting goals farther than six months out creates targets that are perhaps too far away to be meaningful and often have to be abstracted to the point where attainment can be gamed. Metrics that are inside of 90 days provide real insight and make better targets for teams. I know that for myself as a semi-reformed procrastinator, that a goal that is six months away can often be put off until tomorrow.
  3. The Path to Value needs light: The more open to the outside world a project is, the more likely it is to succeed. Producing or attempting to produce value in shorter increments and exposing them to stakeholders outside the project team leads to higher quality finished products that are better received. Getting feedback as you move through a projects’s execution ensures that stakeholders are not surprised by the final delivery and enables them to shape it as it moves through the project life cycle. Obviously, this path can lead to scope creep if not properly managed, but I think the chance to engage and get buy-in along the way coupled with the chance to make minor course corrections in flight is well worth the risk to your scope.

Those are my three keys to staying on The Path to Value. How do you keep your teams working on the things that are really important? How have you tailored a methodology to meet your requirements?

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.