Tired? Beware the temptation to shortcut

JITSU

Every once in a while jiu jitsu will highlight something for me that is really important for business or personal life with regards to performance.  This past week I was sitting around with a couple of the guys after class and we were talking about how it seems like being tired makes us want to rush through things. In jiu jitsu, you’re trying to work through a sequence of moves to get to some endpoint very much like you might do in a business project or anything else that has a deadline. The guy who brought this up mentioned how he feels like he has a tendency to rush during drills the more tired he gets. So we talked about it for a little bit and I think this is something that happens so often in life it was worth pointing out.

A lot of times when you’re in the middle of a project, you’ve got a deadline looming, you’re under the gun, and you’ve been working late to try to get things accomplished as the project winds towards the close, the tendency or the temptation is to try to skip some steps in order to get things done. Now whether it is trying to go directly from your head to a final project and skipping outlining, drafting, or other steps that you might normally do, or trying to cram down your review process; what I found in life as well as jiu jitsu is that those things have a tendency to set you back more than they help you. You have to really sort of embrace the grind and understand that there really are no short cuts. More often than not attempting to rush through or cut steps out of the process isn’t going to work. It’s simply going to end with either a poor result or in taking more time because you’re going to have to go back and go do the steps that you should have done the first time anyway.  I think that one of the things you have to do if you want to be successful under those conditions is you have to resign yourself or mentally prepare yourself to grind through it. You have to understand that it’s a process and you have to decide for yourself if you’re going to be able to make it through to completion because you’re probably not going to be able to shortcut that routine without the end result suffering.

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 Rules for creating a constructive 1st draft

First Draft

I want to talk a little bit about what I believe a draft should be. Obviously there’s a lot of latitude in this subject but I think that it’s really important to understand that no matter what you call it, everyone has an understanding of what a successful draft looks like at the end of the day.

Our internal process for idea generating is very team oriented. We may have 3, 4, or even 5 people in a room working on a whiteboard, sheets of paper, or different drawing tools trying to get some concepts out. We may go back and forth, go and work individually, come back share things, and talk about anything that crosses our minds. I consider all those things to be part of the idea generating phase of doing things. The more people the better in many cases as the whole point of what you’re trying to do is come up with a lot of ideas. Then you want to vet those things down to just a few good ones. Once we have it narrowed down I like to hand it off to somebody to take as their own.

I think that when you get to the point where you’ve squeezed the idea sponge until its run dry in the room and you’ve winnowed your brainstorms down into a  more reasonable amount of a few different things that the team believes have legs its then time to hand that off to a person. Ideally I hand it off to one person or maybe just a couple people that work well together if it’s a big project to get a draft together. If it’s a document maybe that means an outline or if it’s a drawing, an architectural artifact, or whatever it is, there should be an accepted form to it.  I believe no matter what that accepted form is there are a couple of rules that people should follow to know when their draft is ready for exposure to others.

  1. The first thing that should happen is your draft should be able to clearly tell the story of whatever the next phase is going to be. For us, that usually means you’re going to go through a few different drafts, you’re going to get some critical inputs and refine things. Even in that first draft there ought to be idea clarity. What I mean by that is that you ought to be able to explain to me why the things that are in there are in there.  There should be a reason for all of the stuff on the page. So that’s number one and if you can’t do that then it’s not draft ready.
  2. It should not enormously deviate from the concepts that were put together by the larger team. If you’re responsible for taking the work product of the group and further developing it into draft form, I think it’s important that you be true to the concepts that were developed in the group.  If you don’t do that then there was almost no point to having that group work done.  If you get into it and find that there’s just too much new information that makes you want to go down a different route, at that point you need to go take it back to the group and vet that with them before you run with it.  I think that’s important because one of the most critical things that you got out of that big group session was consensus around some of the things that are important and needed to be expressed. So if you’re going to greatly deviate from what had been set forth in the brainstorm sessions you need to go back and get buy in even if you’re right. It’s important that you have those preliminary communications otherwise you’re going to end up presenting those ideas to a group of people who have never seen it before. You’re going to have some people, no matter how good your idea is, think that you betrayed the trust of the group by doing that. They’re going to dislike it just for those reasons and maybe a really great idea goes unused because you didn’t have the professional courtesy to express it or validate your new direction with the group.
  3. Finally the third big thing in knowing when something is a draft that it still has to have a certain level of professionalism. Now this is an area where I have gotten a little push back from people before.  They will say, “Hey it’s still a draft and I just want to have things on a page,” but I will tell you that won’t cut it a lot of times. I’m actually not one of these people but for a lot of others if you haven’t hit spell check and you turn a draft over to them, they can’t get beyond the fact that you misspelled a lot of words. It distracts them from the overall concept and so the five minutes it would take to run spell check is worth doing.  The same thing with drawings and things like that.  If you have an incredibly cluttered page where you can’t clearly express why things are working the way they are or why you’ve laid things out the way you have, it’s not ready and it’s not a draft.  I believe draft materials should be sufficiently developed so that they can be sent to somebody via email. They shouldn’t require extensive oral communication to have an outside party understand what you’re trying to get across or I don’t believe that they’re ready to be shared.  If you have to spend a half hour explaining to me the chicken scratch on a torn out sheet of notebook paper it’s not a draft.  It might represent some really great thinking but it needs to have just a little bit more polish.

Now I’m the first person to tell you don’t waste a lot of time making draft materials client ready but there is a certain amount of effort that is required to get something into a state where people can understand it and that is the point.  You want your draft materials to be good enough to convey the point of what you’re trying to accomplish and there are not distractions in them that prevent people from understanding the concepts that you’re trying to put forward.

Now those are my big three things needed for a draft to be completed.  This is to me, what makes something a draft. I think that way too often people don’t put enough thought into or don’t take the time to step through the idea to product phases enough to end up with the type of product that they should. I think a lot of those mistakes occur because people don’t pay attention to detail in the drafting process. So that’s what I believe constitutes a good first draft for any high level document, drawing or any other knowledge work product. I know that other people have great ideas about other things that should be in there but those are the big three that I find myself talking about more than any others.

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

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

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

Getting the most out of your performance management system

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I think that performance management and performance management systems should be leveraged by organizations to spur higher performing actions and activities as opposed to just using them as sort of a rear view mirror to understand how you did. I think there are probably many ways to do it but I want to talk a little bit about our approach and kind of what I believe works best for us. When you look at anything you’re trying to improve you have to understand the factors of:

  • What factors drive performance
  • What pieces of information do I need in order to understand how its performing now
  • How it may perform in the future

You need a mechanism to get that information in. You need some type of assessment of those things; a way to surface the information about what’s the state of that information at a given moment in time. So I think I use the term assessment because it signifies what you’re really trying to get at here. You can spend a lot of time talking about metrics, measures, key performance indicators (KPIs), and things like that but I’m just going to use the blanket term assessments. I’m trying to say that what we’re trying to do is understand a specific thing that we’re trying to improve. There may be a lot of informational elements that go into understanding it but that is what that assessment is supposed to help us tease out.  What that should do is give us at a specific point in time a really good understanding of the factors that contribute to success or failure at that given point in time.

Oftentimes you need more than just the state of that particular thing to really understand performance or particularly, if you’re looking at lots of those types of things. If you’re looking at a portfolio I use investments all the time because it’s a pretty easy concept to grasp. A lot of people have 401ks, mutual funds, and things like that and they understand that those things are comprised of lots of smaller investments. It’s performance across all those things that contributes to their eventual financial performance.

If you were to assess your portfolio at a specific point in time, it might be as simple as a statement that you get from the company that manages your portfolio. It’s probably going to tell you a little bit about the individual components of the portfolio that makes up your retirement account and that’s a slice in time view that you get. That is of course dependent on what company you go thru and what level of detail you’ve requested. You may get things all the way down into very detailed financial reporting that’s supposed to be indicative of specific companies that are part of your portfolio and that is great for the day that you receive that information. Unfortunately we all know that a day, a week, a month later, the market is completely different.  Things can change immensely in a very short period of time as we’ve seen several times in the last ten years. Instances where we’ve gone from incredible market performance to extraordinarily disappointing market performance in what seems like the blink of an eye and you know the same is true for any organization. So one of the things you need to keep in mind is context.

For many of the companies that were a part of that portfolio, not a lot of things changed inside some of those companies when the market went south but it certainly affected their performance in the market. This despite the fact that maybe they weren’t a part of the industry segment or market segment that was bringing down the market as a whole. Their performance was affected by it so hopefully that is a way to look at context.

There’s a lot of information that you might need to help you make good decisions that’s maybe not directly related to the status of the particular things that you are trying to measure. If you miss that part of it you’re going to miss a lot of the things that inform your understanding of the assessment and make it so that you can make good decisions.  So I think context is enormously important and often overlooked. You need be looking for the pools of information that help make the information that you’re gathering more meaningful.

The last of the things that I think is really important is real time situational awareness.  It’s great to have that assessment, that in depth understanding of the item, and it’s great to understand the context around it but a lot times being able to translate that into things that improve performance means being able to communicate and collaborate across organizational boundaries; both inside the organization and outside the organization. It means being able to collaborate to use that information to make better decisions in a group or team environment. It means being able to understand that information because you see the changes as they occur. You’ve identified the factors that are important to you and you have a mechanism for ensuring that you become aware when certain thresholds change or when there’s activity on a particular item.  I think that situational awareness piece is also often overlooked and incredibly important.

Now oftentimes the most stressed component of all of the things that I’m talking about is the assessment piece.  You’ll have organizations that will invest enormous amounts of money in a point in time assessment. I’m not saying that those are necessarily a bad thing to do but I think that if you want to drive real long term performance you need to be able to have both. You have to combine that with context and with some type of communication and collaboration capability that allows you to take advantage of all of it. Then I think the final things is the business intelligence component; the piece that rolls all of that together so that you can use all of it in a way that is seamless to your organization.

  • Do you have a way to pull context together, the actual assessment information, and then manipulate, share, and leverage that information across your organization so you can really foster change?

I’m curious how other people manage this. I know it’s a big space with lot of layers in it but I think the value chain that runs from the assessment, to the context, to the communication and collaboration workflow component that enables it are incredibly important as a whole. You really have to think about it as not those individual pieces because that’s how traditionally the vendor community addresses it. They have a piece that addresses how you do assessments. There’s a piece that does communication and collaboration and there’s a piece that helps manage data and does business intelligence across various elements of it. I think it’s really important to figure out how you’re going to work with those as a cohesive whole or to choose things that allow you to work as a cohesive whole across that entire value chain.

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.

Reflecting on Father’s Day: Lessons learned from Dad

Fathes day final

I thought this Father’s Day I’d talk a little bit about some of the things that I learned from my dad. Things that have translated over, or at least things that I like to keep in mind, as I go about my daily business. I want to talk about the things that I see that he’s done that make him successful that I try to emulate. My dad is a small rancher farmer out in South Dakota and when I think of successful it’s a combination of having found something you love to spend your life doing that makes you enough money to enable you to continue spending your life doing it. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re the richest guy in the world or the biggest but I think that the combination of being prosperous enough at something to continue doing it because you love it is pretty successful in my eyes.  Here are few of the most important things that I have learned from my father over the years:

  1. You have to be passionate about what you’re doing.  Over the years I’ve watched my dad have a couple different businesses from solar energy business to farming. The one thing that hasn’t changed is that he’s always been passionate about what he’s doing. He now owns a grass-fed beef business and I’m always amazed at the depth of his knowledge on the subject.  I’ll call and talk to him and he’ll, for example, have just gotten back from a butchers course because he wants to learn more about what the cuts mean to the quality of the meat or the different tastes and palates.  He’s constantly learning. He’s got a grass grown beef newsletter that you can get to on homegrownbeef.com and he’s always got something in there about what kind of micronutrients or macronutrients are out there that come from a particular type of grass. So I think there’s that desire to really understand and know everything about what you’re doing which comes with that passion. That passion also nurtures you through those times when maybe things aren’t going as well or things don’t look like they’re going to work out; passion carries you through.
  2. The second thing he taught me was that you have to be willing to work hard at things you want.  I always am amazed at the type of man hours my dad puts in, even though he probably doesn’t have to at this point in his life. He’s out there working 15 to 16 hour days in the spring because that’s what it takes to do what he loves to do. It just shows you what you can do when you’re passionate about something and you believe in it. That hard work and the level of effort that you put into something is what drives you forward when other people might fail at something. The fact that you push on and push through may be the difference between success and failure.
  3. I think the last thing I want to talk about is how taught me that if you want to try new things and take a different perspective from the conventional, it’s ok. It’s something that my dad has always done, he has been his own guy and learned things for himself. He didn’t necessarily focus in on trying to be different but if different made sense to him or what he believed in, he always stuck to it. He didn’t let the way that everyone else was doing things constrain his thinking and that may be the biggest lesson that I’ve ever learned from him. Just because everyone else is doing it one way doesn’t make it the right thing to do for you. I’ve had many conversations with him regarding this. Whatever everyone else is doing may not be sustainable because once everyone else starts doing it, in a strictly commercial sense, it begins to constrain your revenues. There’s a whole bunch of reasons why trying to something a little bit differently might make sense but the biggest thing is just not allowing yourself to fall into that group thinking trap. It’s important to figure out for yourself what is the right approach for you and what is the best way to do something. That is something that he has always done no matter what everyone else is doing and that’s incredibly impressive to me.

I’m curious to hear from other folks what lessons you’ve learned from your father that have stuck with you to this day? What are things that you think about when times gets tough at work or at home?

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.

Maintaining the health of your social and professional circles

Maintain the health of you social and professional circles

I’m going to try something new out today. I’m not going to tell you that this is a tried and true method I’ve used to maintain a healthy network or that this has led to me being a happier or more successful person because I’ve never tried this before. All I know is I was thinking about this the other day and I think I’m just going to go ahead and give it a shot. So I have talked quite a bit about how important maintaining your network is. I think sometimes when you say networking it makes it sound really commercial and I don’t necessarily mean it in that sense. Certainly some of your career success and your professional success is predicated on the folks that you know but it’s not just that those people connect you to opportunities. It’s that those people help you experience new things and learn about things you otherwise wouldn’t know. It’s the same thing in your network that is purely social.

Those are people that are going to influence what you think about and how you think about the things you think about. When you get right down to it, those are huge factors in not just how successful you’ll be but how happy you’ll be.  So I’ve decided that I’m going to try something today that I’ve never tried before. I’m going to reach out to one person that I haven’t talked to in a really long time.  The thing that got me thinking about this was one of my childhood best friends, who’s been a friend for practically forever, and I hadn’t spoken to him since our 20 year high school reunion. What prompted us to reconnect was finding out that his father was going to pass and you know that’s one of those things that just shouldn’t happen that way. So I’m going to be a little more proactive and I’m going to talk to someone that I haven’t really spoken to in a long time. I want to ensure that I maintain that connection to people that I’ve known for a long time, I’ve always enjoyed speaking with, and not take it for granted; because it shouldn’t take something terrible to bring us together.

The second thing I’m going to do is reach out to somebody that I believe can change my life.  Someone that I maybe don’t know but would like to know because I think that what they do or what they stand for is exciting or interesting or could be a changer for me.  Maybe I’ll be successful or maybe I won’t but at least I’ll have tried to make that connection.

The third thing I’m going to do is reach out to somebody who I maybe only connected with via email or had casual routine or business sort of exchanges with. I’m going to reach out to that person on the phone and see if the person behind the mail is somebody that I would like to talk to on a more regular basis.  So I’m going to do all those things and I’m guessing those will take me less than an hour. I’m just curious where it will lead.  I’ll report back on if those things translated into anything either that were worthwhile either personally or professionally.  I’m curious what other people think or if other people have attempted things like this. Do you regularly make an effort or schedule time to refresh or renew relationships that may be getting stale over time or that had been neglected?  What are the things that you do to maintain the health of your social and professional circles?

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.

Checklist for what to do at work before you leave for vacation

Vacation Checklist

Summer is vacation primetime.  People coming and going from the office can be stressful for everyone. In order to reduce the stress on yourself and those you leave behind at work, I thought I’d list some ideas for how to make sure your summer vacation goes smoothly. So before you check out this summer take a look at these 7 tips:

  1. Give people enough notice. It’s imperative to make sure you give enough lead time in order for those around you to plan accordingly.
  2. Coordinate with the rest of your team to make sure that you are all not out at the same time.
  3. Ensure that your regular duties have been transferred to other parties within your team so that they continue to get done. You don’t want to have things piling up on you while you’re gone or worse, you have to do them while you’re gone
  4. Take the time to transition the knowledge required to do those duties. You do not want the first call you get when you leave the office for your vacation to be, “Hey, how do I do that stuff you wanted me to do?”
  5. Make sure that your external stakeholders, clients, etc., have a point of contact that they can get in touch with you or information for whom they can get in touch with while you’re gone.
  6. Make sure that if there is a REAL emergency they can get in touch with you so you don’t have a complete mess when you get back.
  7. If it’s necessary that you check in while you are on vacation, make sure that you have a scheduled time and stick with it. You do not want your vacation to turn into a workcation.

As always I’d love to hear other people’s thoughts or any ideas for making the work to vacation transition easier.

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 Common characteristics of successful people

Success

I certainly don’t claim to be a scientist or somebody who has an incredibly nuanced opinion of nature vs. nurture but there are certainly a lot of folks on the market right now that talk about what motivates people. Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us is a great example, by Daniel Pink. There’s another book I loved about what engages people to work hard to move forward in their lives. There’s also another great book called “Outliers: The Story of Success” by Malcolm Gladwell about what it takes to master things. I’ve been around enough successful people, not just in the sense of people that you might’ve read about in newspapers or magazines, but everyday people that have been able to achieve things that maybe they hadn’t had formal training in otherwise. They would look to be unprepared to do something yet you watch them succeed and I think that they all encompass the same essentially three characteristics that jump out at you.

  1. The first characteristic I’d like to discuss is dogged determination to succeed. It’s amazing how much learning something new or anything else, just depends on simply sticking with it. I’ve watched people teach themselves some pretty complicated things in a pretty compressed time period just on the basis of knowing it had to be done and figuring it out. I think there’s just a mindset there around that level of determination that if you put it in your head that you’re simply not going to fail, you’re a lot more likely to succeed.
  2. The second thing is a willingness to work with others, communicate, explore new avenues, and do what it takes to reach success.  That’s another one where I’m always impressed when you see someone who is willing to ask questions. I think sometimes, and I know that I’m as guilty of this as anyone, that you can be hesitant to ask something because you don’t want to look dumb, expose a weakness or lack of knowledge, and have somebody think that you’re not as smart as they thought. That is a path to not growing.  I think you have to be willing to show your weaknesses in order to improve.  If you consistently play to your strengths you’re locking yourself out of a lot of growth opportunities.  When you’re forced or put in a position where you absolutely have to learn something new or develop a new skill, it becomes really hard if you cut yourself off from one of the primary avenues of succeeding. By that I mean finding other people who have done it before you that can help you.  I think that this second factor is huge in attaining success; finding avenues for communicating with folks who have done it before you, asking questions, and being willing to look a little bit silly on the path to understanding what you need to do.
  3. Finally the third thing should come as no secret, and that is you have to be willing to put in the work.  It’s really hard to be successful at something new if you constrain yourself to just the time you put into the everyday things that you already know how to do.  When you’re trying to transition into a new skill set, learn something, and apply something in a short period of time, if you’re not willing to put in some extra work and some extra time I don’t think you can get there.  There’s a lot to be said about work/life balance and maintaining a perspective of what you’re trying to achieve in the context of who you are as a person but sometimes you need to spring  a little in order to get things situated in your mind in a way that you can use it on a daily basis. There’s absolutely nothing like immersing yourself in something for a few days or weeks to overcome some of the hurdles you would otherwise have in learning or figuring out how to do something new.

So I think those three things are kind of common sense qualities needed for success. Time and time again I see people that are teammates, people that I work with, and people that work for me who are succeeding and the common ingredients that they all share are the ones I mentioned above.  Now again, I know that they seem to be common sense but they are not always applied. The people that are frustrated and saying, “I’m not really picking this up,” or “I’m really struggling to understand this,” and you watch what they’re doing; it should come as no surprise that they’re not working as hard as the people that are able to pick something up. They’re not asking the right questions of the right people.

Now while I think there’s a lot to be said for being able to ask for help and being able to reach out to people, there’s a balance that needs to be struck there. You need to push through and make your own breakthroughs sometimes so you can really own the material or the skill whatever it is rather than simply having someone else do it for you because they’re better at it.  I’m curious what other people have seen and what other people believe are the short list to succeeding at those sorts of things.

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.

Don’t just have great ideas: Sell them

16_365~1

I think one of the things that I’ve really noticed over the years is that no matter what you’re trying to accomplish, communication is key. I think a lot of times when you get into a large public sector project or an internally facing private sector project, people forget that you still have to sell your ideas to make them successful. Even if it’s just an internal project that’s supposed to make things run more efficiently, more effectively, or if it’s a public sector project that has been mandated that you have to do, sometimes people take that as they don’t have to sell this idea it just needs to get done. It would be nice if that was the case but it’s just not.  So I want to talk today a little bit about one of the mechanisms that I’ve found is really good at helping get buy-in and more importantly, it’s interesting enough that people will actually look at it and start to understand your project or your objectives a little bit better.

We’ve been using info graphics quite a bit as a way to tell a story about a project or whatever it is that we’re trying to accomplish. People find them interesting because it’s a combination of artistry and numerical backing that gets people wanting to take a look at it and understand things in a way that is different than just a written piece or something like that. I want to talk about kind of the three basic parts that we use most often to build an info graphic. We decide these things before we start putting ideas on paper and I’ll talk a little bit about the tools we use as well.

  1. The first thing we do is try to put the whole thing in context. If it’s a private sector project we may look at the market and gather market statistics. If it’s a public sector project and we’re looking at technology portfolios we may look at size and complexity, anything that sort of gives you the big pictures view of what you’re looking for or what you’re trying to accomplish.
  2. The second thing that we’ll do is highlight some of the details that are driving the action that we’re taking. The why of what we are trying to accomplish in this project. If you can sum that up statistically or with numbers, it becomes a lot easier for people to understand at a glance.
  3. Then finally in our third section is most of the time focused on three broad groupings. We’ll have our call to action, what are we trying to get you to do, and we try to give a taste of what the world might be like if we accomplished whatever that project is that we’re trying to do. We try to put some statistics or numeric value behind what that is.

Pretty simple formula and it creates things that are very powerful and very compelling. The problem that most of us, myself included, is that we are not very artistically inclined. So the question is how do you get that really rich compelling feel that you want to have? Well we’ve used Piktochart which is a very reasonable priced, available online on the web, tool for building these. They’ve got a bunch of themes that you can choose from and make it really easy for you. A lot of times we’ll go in, use their base theme, and we’ll drop our information in. If we need to we’ll build components in illustrator or other tools to upload into the info graphic to make it ours so to speak. From there it is simple to download it and push it out to the client. (Here is an example of an info graphic created using these tools.)  That’s really all there is to it. So please take a look at Piktochart. It’s a cool spot to look at things and also take a look at Visual.ly, which is another great resource for info graphics.

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.

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.