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

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

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

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

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

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

Can you talk to the business in business terms?

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

How do you talk to the business?


Growth

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

What you should ask yourself

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

Framing IT’s Support of the Business

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

Risk

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

What you should ask yourself

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

Framing IT’s Support of the Business

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

Consumer Trends

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

What you should ask

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

Framing IT’s Support of the Business

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

Supply Chain Management

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

What you should ask

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

Framing IT’s Support of the Business

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

Selling, General and Administrative Expense (SG&A)

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

What you should ask

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

Framing IT’s Support of the Business

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

Time to market

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

What you should ask

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

Framing IT’s Support of the Business

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

Technology investments

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

What you should ask

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

Framing IT’s Support of the Business

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

Competitive landscape

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

What you should ask

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

Framing IT’s Support of the Business

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

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

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

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

Run your IT organization like a business

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

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

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

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

The 3 P’s to Meeting Success

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

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

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

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

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

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

Going Mobile: How to prioritize your application portfolio

It is now commonly accepted that the world is a pervasively connected place. More and more customers’ and stakeholders’ expectation is that work and play will occur anywhere, anytime and via any device. Below are a few facts from the recent publication Digital Government: Building a 21st century platform to better serve the American people:

  • Mobile broadband subscriptions are expected to grow from nearly 1 billion in 2011 to over 5 billion globally in 2016
  • By 2015, more Americans will access the Internet via mobile devices than desktop PCs
  • As of March 2012, 46% of American adults were smartphone owners – up from 35% in May 2011
  • In 2011, global smartphone shipments exceeded personal computer shipments for the first time in history

These facts are driving the requirement for both the public and private sector to provide access to resources their stakeholders need in this new mobile context. There are many issues that an organization will face in attempting to meet this new expectation. The effort to go mobile will often be tied to other efforts around digital strategy. At times it will be a component of a larger push towards service orientation, in concert with data management initiatives, or coupled with any one of a number of transformational shifts within the technology landscape that are changing the way that organizations do business. Tying an organization’s mobile strategy together with other initiatives will often make sense. The natural synergies that come into play enable the efforts being made to achieve one objective to simplify the attainment of other goals.

With that being said, I have tried to keep thing simple in this article and focus primarily on the characteristics that should be evaluated as the organization looks across its application portfolio to prioritize what should go mobile first. This is an inherently simplistic approach that does not take into account the myriad of opportunities to reduce redundancy, become more efficient within customer facing processes and tie to a cleaner implementation of the organization’s data layer. There are simply too many variables involved to address them within a single article, however addressing these issues within the application portfolio should be considered a critical step in developing a real mobile strategy. The following characteristics should therefore be seen as tools to better understand your application portfolio in the mobile context and not as a comprehensive approach to creating a mobile strategy or methodology for evaluating your application portfolio in the mobile context.

With those caveats in mind I think that the following are some of the key characteristics that should be considered when evaluating the application portfolio for mobile opportunities:

Number of Users
Sensitivity of Data
Application Lifecycle State
Criticality
Mobile Requests

Number of Users

I think that the number of users is a both obvious and underappreciated criterion for going mobile. The numbers game at the top of the page tells the story. With so many mobile users and with almost half of the American population owning a smartphone it is highly likely that any application with a lot of users will also have a lot of users who expect to be able to use the application in the mobile context.
Sensitivity of Data: This is critical because of the implied dependency to maturity of the mobile capability of the organization that will be deploying the application. Having a mobile application that includes personally identifiable or sensitive information requires the application provider have put time and effort into the security of the information in transit and on the device as well as general mobile device management and security.

Application Lifecycle State: This is a factor because the cost of “going mobile” may be easily rolled into the re-development or refresh of an existing capability or built into the development of an early stage application development effort. The return on investment may not be as high on an application that has just entered its maintenance phase; of course the ROI may also be highly dependent on other criteria.

Mobile Requests

Many organizations have begun to change the manner in which they engage with both internal and external stakeholders. The entrance of social media and the focus on enabling conversation has made it easier for stakeholders to advocate for things like mobile access applications. Are you listening? Evaluating your application for mobile opportunities can be much easier if you engage your stakeholders directly with regard to their priorities.

Criticality 
See the factor above, but add your understanding of the organization as an executive. You can’t crowd source leadership. The factors above are things that should be considered from a common sense perspective however every organization has unique circumstances, political factors, maturity challenges, and opportunities. Get the most out of moving your stakeholder experience to the mobile world by ensuring that you don’t put too tight of a box around how you move forward. One critical mistake that can be made when considering the move to mobile is to simply begin “porting” applications to mobile.

Conclusion

I think the characteristics above should help you begin to think in the right direction, figuring out what works for your organization will require some tailoring. If you have an approach you are using at your organization that has been working I’d love to hear about it @jmillsapps on twitter.

                                       

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

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

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

3 ways to ensure your process isn’t the enemy of organizational improvement

The world is becoming a more process-centric place and to a large degree, rightfully so.  The wide acceptance of standards around processes for organizations, specific types of interaction, and data exchanges has, in general, lifted the quality of the goods and services we receive from most organizations on a daily basis, while reducing the cost.  Within many of these organizations, the ones that have grown and matured are the ones focused on the care and feeding of these processes, and the services they support. Unfortunately, in some cases the pendulum has swung too far.  The focus on process has become an anchor dragging on organizational agility and performance.  Is your organization too focused on process and not enough on performance? Here are 3 quick ways to check the pulse of your process-oriented organization:
Check your outcomes: Performance management systems are critical to understanding how your organization drives performance and spotting areas for improvement. Make sure that your performance management system is truly measuring the performance of the system, including outcomes. Knowing that 99% of transactions were completed within a service specification is great.  Knowing that 99% of the customers of that service were happy with it is even better.

Check your peers: Having a mature and well understood process is great.  However, as time moves on you need to keep an eye on innovations within your peer, and near peer organizations. Nobody wants to be sitting on top of a process that is repeatedly, accurately, and steadily increasing the lag between your performance and that of your peers. Understanding where other organizations are succeeding, and developing an ongoing process for accommodating process innovation is critical to maintaining organizational performance while you maintain your process orientation.

Check with your people: One of the first places you will find out about a lagging or underperforming process is at the water cooler. Unfortunately, if you aren’t there when the conversation happens, you may miss a great opportunity to change course and intercept a failing process before it impacts organizational performance. It is critical that an internal feedback loop for processes be in place and that process innovation be a part of organizational culture. Don’t be afraid to allow employees to provide input into your processes. After all, hopefully these are your foremost experts in these processes.

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.

Executive Privilege: Get your hands dirty to get results

One of the greatest parts about becoming an executive is getting to delegate down some of the parts of the job that are boring, cumbersome, or just plain irritating. However, it pays to remember that part of being an executive is leading by example. One of the hardest parts of being a successful leader is realizing that the spotlight is always on you. Your actions and reactions will be seen and replicated at meetings, on phone calls and when it comes time to put in work. If you are always late to meetings it will bleed into the culture. Can’t put down your blackberry in meetings? It will become part of the culture. One of the hardest things to do in any organization is to bring in change, particularly if the thing you are bringing in is hard, tedious, or unfamiliar. This is the perfect time to flex your leadership skills and get your hands dirty. Sometimes, leading people through a difficult change is about more than just making sure people are doing what you are asking to – it is about leading from the front.

I never ask people to do anything I wouldn’t do and to the degree practical I like to show that I can do the doing. If you read any article published in the last 20 years about organizational transformation they will tell you that “executive buy in” is critical to success. I think too many executives read this as “I need to make sure the people below me are doing what they are supposed to do” as opposed to “I need to be out in front of this and show my team how to get this done.” There is more to this than simply showing that you are part of the team, or that you can do it to. Hopefully you became an executive based on your ability to overcome challenges just like the one facing your organization now. Who better to spot opportunities for improvement or tailoring? Maybe there is a better mousetrap that can be built. If you just pass down a prescriptive order to do something, the value of the activity may be diminished. Often the transformational activity is something totally foreign to your team hence the term “transformational.” If it is important, and usually transformational activities are, then you need to be a part of it. Usually transformations are only undertaken when the results are important. This is because according to basic organizational algebra the transformational activities are being done in lieu of other duties, so you are sacrificing the performance of some other task that had up to this point been deemed important enough to be part of your team’s regular duties. If this is the case then you owe it to the organization to lead, because otherwise you risk sacrificing that performance for nothing.

The fact is that most organizations are not able to successfully engage on transformation initiatives. As a consultant I have been involved in many engagements where we are the fourth or fifth group to tackle the same problem. Not to sell us short, but more often than not the culprit is not some small detail that the last set of consultants failed to see. The problem often stems from a lack of executive engagement or guidance. The consultants were brought in and the process was handed off to a team of consultants and in house staff with weekly reporting to the executive counting as the “buy-in.” This model often fails unless one of the in-house staff members is strong enough to be a substitute for the executive participation that should be supporting and driving the effort. I believe that if it was important enough to bring in outside consultants it is probably important enough to participate in the process of even if only enough to be seen and felt as an executive presence. As an executive your presence is the signal that the team is committed to succeeding and that failure is not an option.

When we come into these types of engagements on the heels of multiple failures one of the first things we address is the lack of involvement. The most often heard response is that the executive simply has not had time. As a consultant this is a difficult thing to address because the executive is essentially putting the engagement into play by positioning our participation requirement vs. firm time constraints. However, as a consultant in this situation you have to push for the executive engagement because otherwise the organization will be bringing someone else in on the heels of your failure. If the executive does not have enough time to be a part of the engagement then the organization probably does not have the bandwidth to succeed at the transformation program. At that point it may be useful to look at the portfolio of activities the executive is engaged in and try to explicitly identify the areas where executive leadership is required vs. where a trusted deputy can be successful. It has been my experience that many of the important steady state activities that take up the majority of an executives time are much better candidates for delegation instead of delegating the transformation activities.

Put our team to work improving your organization’s performance. Visit Millsapps, Ballinger and Associates online.

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.