Collaboration

My Walk on the Wild Side

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We all strive to do the very best we can to develop deep capability in our chosen professions. We also sometimes have to dig deep to keep the motivation and belief that our contribution is valued and our legacy provides long term sustainable contribution to our chosen discipline.

We are also told to tell stories as part of any engagement; selling, describing, explaining . .  . .. consulting!

Me as a DrummerI recently had the good fortune to work with someone who in spite of his age and in spite of circumstance (business model) still shows real joy and fun in what he does. He was able to deliver wisdom, advice and stories of sheer joy of his work and accomplishments.

A confession. I was so chuffed to be asked to do this and “we” had absolutely no rehearsal prior and never played together. It was the first time I used that kit in about 5 years! But it was music to my ears.

Listen to him tell stories. Song starts about 5.50 in. Enjoy my walk on the wild side!

But what did this teach me? A team of professionals (in this instance semi-pro in my case) that all understood the part they played in the execution; their role, their responsibility, their contribution and collaboration and support all danced (played) to the same tune and pulled off an immediate and fun accomplishment. At no point did any of us doubt that the other wouldn’t do their job, deliver their part to time and beat and be there for the other.

Why isn’t work more like this more of the time? Why is it that we develop skills that are then compromised by “process” or “policies” or worse – politics and power play! Turning out a horrible tune!

If you don’t know who Herbie Flowers is check out this link http://www.herbieflowers.com/ and just think of Lou Reed Walk on the Wild Side and David Bowie Space Oddity, to name a few . . .

Herbie’s stories made me reflect on how I view my career. My contribution, my legacy and what it is that keeps me motivated irrespective of the challenges and demands that our modern work cadence places upon us. Is it creating beautiful music or wonderful stories!

So I hope you enjoy this and many thanks to Nik for providing me the opportunity to listen, learn and revisit my drumming skills for such an iconic and wonderful piece of music under the instruction of a one of the world’s greatest bass player ever. Thanks Herbie.

Gee Businesses Make It Tough To Change – Change the Tune!

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avril-lavigne-1

The thing is everyone in the room is a solutions architect. But not one a pop star! There’s tension and their pain and emotional investment of a life time career is exposed and raw. There is great endeavours and knowledge experts that would score highly in Master Mind for their chosen subject, and a fascinating array of professional office politicking. But not one harmonious tune.

My role gives me great insight into many situations, sectors and cultures where change and design clash constantly and where ownership and authority dance to the tune of a different song to that which they think is playing. They need to change tune but more on that later.

I see this clash more and more as enterprises make that move from old platform to Cloud and the realisation that standardisation demands a new song that only a shared platform can sing.

In the room they are all looking for a solution; they are all trapped in a decision of the past and now embroiled in the challenge of change. What often astounds me are the players in the room, the leadership of risk taking and the real issue; “our business model is no longer fit for purpose and our operating practice broken!”

Large amounts of operational expense are maintained in maintaining the modus operandi. Large capital expense is questioned and fought for to establish “betterment” against the backdrop of legacy.  This is modern enterprise business in a world of unpredictable change and overpowering competition of new business models of “subscription”.

The intent of all in the room is to do the right thing. The opinion of what is “right” is the challenge of culture, belief, experience and legacy at odds with each other.

When I am sitting in the room and layer after layer of conversation, deviation and ultimate indecision fills the air with noise and awkward body language, indifference, and/or dogma I can’t help having the tune “Complicated” pop into my head. You’re singing the chorus now aren’t you?

Chill out, what you yellin’ for?, Lay back, it’s all been done before , And if you could only let it be, You will see . . . .

I want these companies to go back to the beginning and try to find the true reason why the company and its product became. What drove it to success? Where is the value? What is the differentiator? Cling on to these and then ask:

Why do you have to go and make things so complicated?
I see the way you’re acting like you’re somebody else
Gets me frustrated
You fall and you crawl and you break
And you take what you get and you turn it into honesty
You promised me I’m never gonna find you fake it
No no no

If you fancy a sing alone try this!

Must thank Avril Lavigne fo adding to my corporate change wisdom and therophy.

A Sideways View and the Road Ahead

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Often I get a little vexed when travelling in a taxi and having to look at the head rest of the chair in front. It obscures my forward vision and obstructs my line of direction. And then on an aeroplane with only one view even worse!!!

With the long traffic congested journey to the airport frustrating me for the lack of doing anything productive eats in.  Really I’m an okay traveller but  . . .

When I discovered the dashboard for my membership with British Airways it further made me consider the impact business travel has on productivity and wasted time.  But that’s often our 21st century busy life. And we all have to arrive somewhere, somehow.

BA Travel

On a particular journey I decided to ignore the big black seat in front with the tall head rest blocking the view and looked out of the side windows. It got me thinking. Trying to move forward and make progress whilst managing the obstacles of company, customer politics, policy procedure and legalities and work life balance can often bring to the surface the feelings of frustration, unproductive, time wasted and no clear line of sight.

 

Fundamentally we drive our business objectives and how we achieve our personal or professional goals interlink with though around us through as a shared journey of which some get the front seat and other peer over the shoulders.

However, it occurred to me that maybe a sideway glance, a look left or right may actual unearth opportunities that move all forward via an alternative route. It also speaks to the need to collaborate and stay in tune with the side view of your career and/or corporate activities.

Business will continue to change and challenge in 2015 and with these will produce opportunities which were previously not visible in a straight line of direction of the journey of yester year.

Yes it can be advantageous to sit in the front seat and see the road ahead but a sideways glance can reveal a more interesting landscape.

So my 2015 starting point is to keep sideways view of all the activities that may contribute to the shared success, achievements and wellbeing of colleague, family and friends. Have a great and adventurous journey through 2015 one and all.

Socially Face-to-Face – service through the whites of their eyes – the distance of the Internet

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SM ServiceIt’s really great this social media thing. It is such a great space for education and awareness. The sheer volume of posts, blogs, reports, info-graph and all things. All supported by the sheer weight of big data making sense of things we couldn’t prove before whilst at times tearing down our historic perceptions of our past reality. I love it. But it can become a paranoiac minefield of self-harming opinion. It is almost akin to “Death by PowerPoint”.

Death by PowerPoint a common fatality of many a great and important message. That said pictures paint a thousand words and ShowTime can be fun. Thinking back on the multitude of events I have attended, the presentations that resonated most have to be those that told a personal story. A story you could relate. Not the slide or statistic that you had to jot down. I guess it is dependent on all having a shared experience – speaking to the masses! Data would suggest this is more often the case than not in our modern overly monitored, categories and processed lives.

I attended an event on customer service back in 2011 that had a lot of case studies and statistics on where, why and how to manage and deliver it supported by copious amounts or diagrams/slides showing best practice, architecture, tools etc. All very useful, informative but I have to confess with a retention score of Zero in creating a call to action or influencing me past the next speaker.

Funny I am in the midst of setting out an initiative and find I am producing copious number of slides to help galvanise my thoughts! A tool or a communication medium? That’s another blog! Where’s my mind-map?

Returning to this event and one particular presentation, well more like story-time.  A futurologist (I kid you not) working at BT, a Dr Nicola Millard delivered such a poignant and relevant message of the future of service engagement that it basically put to shame 80% of the previous days speeches, industry advice and undermined most of the solutions presented and best practices pitched.

She explained that the rate of change and the speed of consumer opinion is overwhelming and unstoppable in this connected social mobile Smartphone App futurologist .  That the reality is that no matter how hard companies try to perfect engagement they can only do so retrospectively which is often too late, too behind the curve to satisfy and putting at risk customers retention or limit any damage to the brand.

What made Dr Millard presentation so impactful was her delivery of this dilemma and the fact that she reached out to the audience by using the whole stage and not standing behind a lectern or referred to slides as the main delivery.

You could see the whites of her eyes the passion in her beliefs. She instilled confidence and therefore commanded attention. She spoke directly and enthusiastically and put “us” in the story recalling our everyday activities in relation to the proposition of “how to control the un-controllable” which was overly oopinionated customers using smartphone/social app at the point of service delivery –  a queue that was way too long against the backdrop of unattended service booths. #poorservice

BA TweetAnd the picture she painted is one that I have experienced personally. In situations where I have required assistance from some large organisations I have used social media (mainly Twitter) to achieve success. In most cases this has worked far better than traditional channels (LG, British Airways to name a few good ones).

Her positioning of this dilemma still resonates with me.  I hear in so many conversations I experience in business to this day. The need to change, modernise, and deliver “world class” customer service and perform better.  A constant challenge and at times struggle for most organisations. “It’s all about the platform” cries out a stressed out management team; “If we had a single view of the customer with all channels captured and . . . . .”

So how does Social Media and customer service close the gap, crosses the divide between the post, the like, the comment and shows the whites of it eyes? It must give that personal touch, that empathy or a call to actions that changes the nature of the broadcast to really be a service offering.

Do I have the answer? I guess Social Media fundamentally promotes tailored service and breaking the call centre-all script. Why? Because the transparency and collaboration that can develop from a single post or a single tweet can be immense and lasts forever in the Social Cloud. The conversation can become global quickly so containment and direct help is imperative to rescue the experience to maintain reputation and relevance with a customer.  But it can’t be one of process as that is not a good experience and this is very public.

SM SPSince that event way back in 2011 I am seeing and experiencing companies taking Social Media so much more seriously, not for the “Likes” alone, but for supportive interactions and turning this into positive, global and fully transparent PR opportunity of what a great company does when it needs to support its customers.

Great service will always starts with a personal touch, an experience, a human touch at the end of the post or send button. So I wouldn’t bet on transformational cost savings in service delivery through the transition into Social Media Customer Service practice. After all it is just another channel to manage! A ferociously public one which will require the good old Service Agent to manage as much as any “one on one” experiences on traditional channels. The existing internal training, couching and product/service training and CRM practices as is standard in any good service organisation will still be demanded and expected by your customers. So don’t look to save using Social Media as a “cheaper channel”, but look to improve your return creating a Social Media Service experience that shows them the whites of your eye and gets the word out that your a great Brand to work with.

Specific time you have been influenced? People not Cloud/Social Media

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Awhile ago I was asked this question as part of a coaching session “Can you think of a specific time you have been influenced to change your mind and how?”

Influence 1It took awhile to think about my response and with my smartphone in hand and the world of social media and apps readily and persistently available I kept pressing myself to think of a Cloud/Social Media example.  You see, so much is given to this great wonderful, and it is wonderful, new frontier of connections and influence that one automatically relates ones life to this. That, or I need to get a life! I have had some great experiences and influences through the widen reach of social media but these have often been from a one-way learning view point. I am sure this will change as the world and our working life becomes increasingly dependent on who we can reach and where we can cultivate influence and advice. But as it stands for me it was people engagement that influenced me most.

I put down my smartphone, logged out of the various social media sites and recalled the moment. In an attempt to introduce customer segmentation to an institutionalised trade organisation it was key to not only provide the facts (statics) but also embrace the emotional decision making process of the board that would sanction its adoption.

This board was made up of the very people who would be impacted by a segmented engagement with the institution – turkey voting for Christmas scenario. There were clear power pockets among this group with influence that extended beyond the institution and into trade bodies and key customers.  This could impact the outcome I was looking to achieve. Having done my analytical homework, proven the 80/20 rule and showed how cross subsidisation was supporting the masses of under contributors as the driver for improved customer retention I was set to deliver what I felt could only be a fait accompli. After all the facts speak for themselves!

A senior member of the committee agreeing with the segmentation strategy took me to one side; “You need to get the board to own the decision and then you need to support their decision through your analysis to validate it.  Without this you will be seen as challenging rather than supporting the organisation.” This was a good point and a key consideration in what was a political and emotional arena. It led to a change in tactic and a more refined stakeholder management approach. Perversely I segmented the stakeholders and looked at each through the lens of “Voice and Sphere of Influence Profile”.  This shaped how I would approach each member of the board and how to gauge their position on the strategy

Influence 2The advice given and my experience in taking heed influenced my approach.  I worked more one-to-one with board members, especially those that were identified as carrying the weight to see the recommendation through or best placed to champion the strategy to the very community it would impact. It is people that make decisions on strategy not statistic and this experience changed how I approached such matters going forward.

It is also, we hope, people at the end of the posts, feeds and links. But it isn’t the same as a hand on your shoulder and a quiet, yet influential word in your ear.

What is it good for . . . . . Requirements

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TreeThe order of the day was a complex in an international institutionalised practice desperate to move into “best practice” methods of doing business. Now surely “best practice” can only be defined in context of the performance of the individual organisation. You’re only as good as your last . . . . .

They had worked hard, tirelessly to assimilate all the requirements and categories them, align them, group them and dissect them. Good job clearly a momentous effort.

The list was extensive, each statement hanging in the breeze like leafs on a branch, connected and bound by their precarious stems waiting to detach at any moment under the stress of the changing breeze of business. They twist and turn on the branch, and not easily translate to the canvas of colour and texture that defines  . . . . . . .

It was going to take a big effort from the team to pull this into shape. The countless workshops and PowerPoints, papers and examples given, received, digested, regurgitated and pondered only added to the strength of the breeze blowing the leafs and stressing the branches. The task stared us in the face, the cutting wind of Requirements Definitions.  Were we able to see the wood for the trees?

But what is a statement of requirements as the first stage of a project life cycle? If we stopped to ask what is it we are trying to achieve and what part of a process we looking to complete or why do we need to do this, we may rethink an approach and weighting of this stage. For sure the business will change during the life time of the project and therefore our requirements may become irrelevant or just plain different.

We want to ensure that sufficient understanding of the domain space has been transferred into a project artefact and that the project is able to articulate what the project must deliver and for what outcome or benefit; “The solution should allow . . . . to do this to achieve the following outcome.“

 There are several tools to help describe definition such as flow charts, Unified Modelling Language (UML) Use Case, Swim Lanes, User Story, State Transition Diagram etc . . . . However, we want to be able to communicate to a non-technical, non-engineering audience, typically business Subject Mater Experts (SME) and key stakeholders.  These participants often work from the repetitive, process driven lens or day-to-day operation. Not the engineering lens looking to dissect and rebuild. Making conceptual requirements difficult to relate to the now of the everyday operation.

Assume in existence is a strategy statement, a vision, a mission statement and all that good stuff, something to hang your hat and scarf on in the stiff breeze of requirements gathering. Assume there is visibility of a value proposition and quantifiable KPIs.  I guess if you cannot substantiate these assumptions you should STOP now.

The project is being set up for failure without clarity on this. Speaking to my previous blog (SoO) these should be listed and counter signed as part of the outcome partnering proposition between organisations.

For the purpose of this blog post let’s assume all that good stuff is in place.  Otherwise I should stop writing now.

A requirements definition could then reflect the following:

  1. Requirements1A reference number – Always useful and unique
  2. A short title – Representing the gist of the need
  3. A fuller description – Of the “What” – not how and should be singular in nature, one statement for one need
  4. Business Alignment – The “Why” this is needed and how it fits into the business operation and/or practice
  5. Strategy Alignment – A short statement on how this support the business strategy
  6. KPI – How the requirements will be quantifiably measured against the business outcome as business value (take it that Strategy Alignment could be qualitative measure)
  7. Audit/Knowledge Custodians – Who, when, SME, version, date etc

Yes there is a ton of other stuff but let’s not boil the ocean here. It should not include design and implementation matter or commitment to user experience and/or solution design. We are after all trying to relate business needs to a set of deliverable to form the exercise of design, not design as a seed to requirements.  Reminds me of the saying “a good invention waiting for a purpose.”

Language, texture and tone. We need acceptance, buy-in and most importantly agreement and alignment to take these to a formal approval sign off.  So this document has to be non-technical and speak a business language and not an implementation and/or technical one. It must bind leafs blowing in the wind into a coherent sway of changing winds.

As such it must be a collaborative effort and individuals on both sides of the table must approach this with a view of making this work. It must speak a common language and it must engage and satisfy many masters.

A by product: This exercise is a great asset to any organisation as a by-product often establishes the missing corporate procedure manual that can go a long way in managing the overall alignment and effectiveness of the enterprise.

So the next time a requirements gathering phase is initiated it may be worth looking at your template, tool kit and definition of this task and asking: “What is it that we are trying to achieve through this effort?”

Statement of Outcome – road to repeat business and continued subscription

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Contracts“We’re a customer centric company” proclaims the well-heeled account executive to the soon to be client.  “It’s all about the customer. Without our customers our Cloud/SaaS Company is nothing.”

But how does that translate into a company culture?  And how does that get realised in the execution of service?  And how does that define the customer relationship?

The expansive and exhaustive clauses in the Master Service Agreements (MSA) and Statement of Work (SoW) used to level set engagements have been laboured over, positioned and postulated to the nth degree to protect “all” parties.

The ink is hardly dry when the next signing is due!  Change Orders, Change Control and the endless negotiation on definition of accountability the ruin of many a good customer relationship. The cost and effort in tracking scope and reporting effort adds to burning up precious resource, budget and time. Is there an alternative?

Today the SoW and MSA are the established rule. But how does this fit with the social collaborative, agile method that we all profess to embrace in this Cloud/SaaS day and age? Is this the “outcome” based generation of delivery professionals or are we still entrenched in the “push me pull me” relationship of the last century?

Businesses can execute projects on a strategically optimistic level and become painfully compromised by this. Due diligence can cripple innovation.  Hope and vision is an important human emotion that provides motivation, focus and leadership.  A clear steer is needed in often uncharted waters.  The SoW should be the wind in the ships (project) sails but often becomes a storm rather than a guiding wind as knowledge and learning unfolds.

Ask yourself this; “did the last SoW you delivered against really reflect the effort and journey that was originally set out in it?”, “was what was delivered anywhere close to what you discovered you actually needed?”.

Experience has shown that conflict of interests, and at times crises of principle, between the persona of a Partner and the execution of a Supplier can create the worse in customer relationship; waste, inefficiencies, missed opportunities and lost success, all trapped within the framework that is the Time and Materials (T&M) SoW of the last century.

I have experienced both sides of the customer and supplier relationship. I have felt the pains from both. The supplier that wants to act as a partner and finds the SoW culture aligns to acting as a supplier. And as the customer frustrated by the supplier who fails to grasp the bigger picture to step up to acting like a partner.

I am not saying that accountability, definition, financial management, penalty and control should be abandoned. I am saying that what SoW measures in this day and age are probably not fit for purpose and need to look at delivery and reward from a new set of metrics.

When I think back on being on the receiving side (the customer) I recall that success came from suppliers that worked jointly with me to overcome a challenge. This created the support relationship to bring an engagement to a mutually successful position – an outcome and a partnership.   In this position at times it was necessary to deliver bad news to stakeholders and align with the supplier. But this was in preservation of the bigger picture.  I commend those suppliers who went the extra mile finding the guts to invest in the relationship. You know who you are.

Those suppliers that took up a ridged and tightly formed scope approach chasing the margin suffered a cautious relationship with the stakeholder community. In fact most of the suppliers I worked with who took that approach are not in business today.  Whereas most that partnered and invested in joint risk and challenge are.

Outcomes

In a recent Cloud/SaaS engagement it became clear that the needs of the customer could not be met by the existing arrangement and agreement. Both sides had a learning curve of industry and product that was steeper than first thought. Significant business change challenges and clear knowledge gaps existed that exacerbated the situation. Product capability and readiness impacted the shaping of the solution. The Customer’s ability to provide need support and definition lacking.  It was clear that the duration between pre-sales, SOW agreement and actual project execution highlighted the rapid change of business in this day and age. Our SoW was out of date before we started the project!

This further encouraged my thinking that the SoW should focus on mutual recognition of risk, creativity of mitigation and contingency of clear measurable business outcomes; reduced cost through efficiencies, increased revenue through business intelligence, reputational outcome through tracking CSAT, retention of staff, retention of customers and business, bigger slice of the pie.

How about a collaborative transparent approach across all players in the project with joint investment/ownership and reward written into an agreed Statement of Outcome (SoO)?  We all have some form of performance management scheme in our job roles and are familiar with these so why not make projects based upon the same SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timely) measures. Anything but scope, time and budget. All of which we rarely are really in control of as time elapses, scope changes and budget diminishes and more importantly, Business Changes, before the end is in sight.

So when I find the conversation focuses on a SoW and the tightly bound scope and engagement framework I ask myself “are we looking at the customer as a lifelong engagements?” or do we see them as a “revenue target for a fixed event?”

I argue that in this Cloud/SaaS subscription economy the latter does not hold weight. We need to rethink the terms of the SoW and look to embrace shared outcome for the longevity of a subscription through outcome based engagements (SoO) when it come to the implementing the solution and long term strategic revenue flows in a SaaS model.