UK Institutions, Coffee, Books and an Internet Social Media Generation

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I don’t normally blog about pseudo political agenda but being a parent and a social media adventures this item of book notoriety  brought my Coffee and Socialfingers to my keyboard.

As a parent I take an active interest in my children’s line of study (when they allow me). I recently took a look at a secondary school media study curriculum and discussed a piece of homework with my daughter she was undertaking for this subject. I was disappointed as she is already publishing in a medium and platform way advanced, more fantastic and with great outreach than the detail she was been asked to learn here!

What was being learnt was a skill and a mindset that would be long dead as an industry by the time my child would be in any job that would reference anything close to the techniques being studied. A redundant, pointless and irrelevant educational investment.

Desired Jobs in UKA few days later this table was brought to my attention by a social media post. Having visited the site that produced the survey and read some of the media coverage and comments I felt frustrated and worried for a generation.  My findings further underpinned my angst for the future of the UK competing in the digital, social, internet of things connected, collaborative world that my children will undoubtedly live and work in.

Why didn’t “Internet Entrepreneur” or “App Designer”, “Game Designer”, or “Social Media Engineer” (now there’s a title) appear in this list? Let alone “Computer Scientist”. I guess the wrong demographic was asked and the right one never is.  The survey was directed by the current generation of politicians and media pundits that will disadvantage the next generation because that’s how we hang on to power!

Don’t get me wrong, I love learning. Books “were” imperative to awareness of our developing world. However, Libraries and the art/role of a Librarian is now so last century.  Projects like the “Google Books Library” is how our information future will be brought to life and the the history of books be preservers (as they should be) forever as our past.

Schools media studies should reap the free world of the Internet and be based upon the students creating a blog, a web-site, even a Facebook community page or learn to broadcast as a YouTube channel. Most of this is free. They should learn an understanding of media management through SEO and Google Analytics. They should study how to measure the impact of social media interaction and data mining.

If I had my way, every library would become an Information Coffee Points. Yes that’s right, a coffee and a good digital book! The role of “Internet Barista” would be taught in high school and apprenticeships as a “Social Media Internet Barista” would be sponsored by Starbucks and Google. Come to think of it, do our children really need to be educated in the Internet of Things, Social Media, the Digital Information Age?

No. They are living it in spite of a generation of policy makers and historians controlling their education. In fact, with the amount of blogs and posting, the management of information, and the constant learning of new wonderful Internet things, the top 3 roles called out in this survey are inherent in this generation but the adoption of the Internet. Maybe this post will give you cause to bookmark it.

My thanks goes to my daughter and Gavin at House Pesso for the inspiration behind this post.

Requirements to Design or “just get me there soonest” – SaaS Rapid Implementation Methodology

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Classic WaterfallThere are many tried and tested implementation methodologies and countless variations on a theme. Common practice is picking and choosing the bits that work best for a given target environment. Hybrid, aligned, adapted, call it what you will. The bottom line is we learn from every implementation and hopefully adapt.  Or do we?

Last century expectations on delivery were well matured and mostly agreed with business stakeholders.  The process that were required to deliver were mostly understood together with the expectation, speed to deploy, timeline and project management process.

Generally the sense of rapid and/or dare I say “agility” was firmly grounded or caged within the waterfall process that drove delivery in the main back then. You know how it went; Requirements definition, functional design, build, test, launch etc . . . . so last century!

Cloud computing comes along. Software as a Service explodes. The sales proposition drive speeds and agility of deployment as a key value prop and RoI. Remember Salesforce.com “Click not Code”! The rush to cultivate a successful implementation methodology to support this new paradigm and business expectation continues to march on.  But that said practices of yesteryear are definitely off the menu this century.

Sweet SpotNow the  nature of Software as a Service (SaaS) demands a healthy and growing relationship with the end user to maintain renewing subscription. This is the very foundation of the business model.  Execution of a SaaS project should start with that relationship fully in mind. Basing a project upon ridged and constrained scope and deliverable is a conflicting and contradictory engagement model for SaaS (see my earlier post, a subject dear to my heart Statement of Outcome). The need for a SaaS Rapid implementation methodology is vital.

So where is this going? In my experience running a Requirement Definition and Design stage  is now so tightly coupled that defining requirements as a blue-sky, white-sheet, blank piece of paper process is extremely dangerous to the delivery of a SaaS solution. Take the core principles of multi-tenancy SaaS and take any SaaS solutions; “the constraint is in the SaaS solution delivery model and business complexity challenges whilst working within this which, pushes projects back into classic development mode?”

A SaaS solution needs a methodology that embraces it delivery model, speaks clearly to rapid implementation and defines business requirements within it core product capability as a win/win to renewals.

In addition, the SaaS product model must exhibit sufficient functionality for complex business requirements for its space. The SaaS Implementation Methodology therefore must speak to a requirements definition that aligns directly with the design of the SaaS product.

Tag Line

Merge the Requirements Definition and the Solution Design stage to address the SaaS delivery expectation model as a SaaS Rapid Methodology and align product capability road-map to the level of customisation based on the implementation feedback at the front line. The subscription economy demands it in the SaaS application space.

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.

Doing the “right thing” by mixing your drinks or how not to wet your self

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DTRTIt was always going to be a challenging project. The end users had the attention span of a gnat.  The delivery was to change their way of working significantly.  We knew we were looking at an uphill battle of acceptance, agreement and adoption. But it was a transformational project and had benefits beyond the front line use (CRM).

My key sponsor knew how to play this landscape and knew how to navigate the culture and habitat of the business. As such he drove an extremely hard line on the project team and maintained a level of focus and engagement that ensured that we did the “right things”, not always “did things right”.

As the project manager this approach often conflicted with the fundamental way minds work in an engineering project discipline.  It clearly did not sit well with the project team. “Where is the best practice?” rang in each team meeting, “this doesn’t work with the deliver dependencies in the plan!”  Somehow we needed to find common ground and understanding with the business and agreed demarcation of decision making and domain respect.

I was accountable for the delivery of the solution.  It had to meet the business needs but also needed to be sustainable and workable across the wider solutions and process platforms.  It also must protect the long term ROI by the manner in which we engineered the solutions for several international areas of the business.

Some environments can tolerated the “do the right thing” v’s “doing things right” approach and other will push back. The birth of Agile PM as an example has been bastardised from it pure efficiency gains into a delivery expectation paradigm which is wrong, wrong, wrong.  It places business, projects and outcomes at risk by setting expectation that do not align to a design and puts avoidable pressure on all sides of the project. Some things we build need foundations; it isn’t just painting and decorating!

However, in this instance my sponsor had the positioning bang on and influenced the way I priorities and multitasked the project into what would “curry” favour with key stakeholders, answers their concerns and keep the project from by flushed down the loo!  The key was to make an early deliverable to the end user communities and make an immediate and important win whilst building solid reputation and greater tolerance of the project for doing thing right going forward.

I must confess, at the beginning of this journey this approach created some degree of challenge for me and great anxiety for the team.  It went against all my experience and best practice as a PM. I was tasked with managing a delivery whilst my sponsor was tasked with delivering an outcome. I have since come to realise that these in essence are one and the same.

So over too many drinks one night this miss-alignment resulted in a heated debate (constructive and open) between us. My Beersponsor resolved it by setting me a test.  This proved his point and influenced how I would assess delivery forevermore.

“You have been out all night drinking copious amounts of beer. You’re hungry and in desperate need of a toilet. You grab a microwave curry on the way back to your flat. Keys in the door into the hallway and you see that you have some messages on your answerphone (those were the days). So you’re hungry, desperate for the toilet and there are messages waiting for you. What do you do first?”

I’ll leave you to work out what is the correct answer and please let me know by leaving your comment below,

Suffice to say this approach has continued to influence my thoughts and approach in engagements and project management. Where there is a clear need for “quick wins”  that conflicts with “best practice” it is important to find a way forward that allows leveraging greater stakeholder tolerance of the wider delivery and a more pragmatic direct focus on doing the “right things” by the team in order to do things right.

As a leader of the project team my task is to gain buy-in from all parties to identifying why a “doing the right thing” by your business stakeholders is the first deliver that any project needs to make.

The Art of the Possible but by Design

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IMG_5471I once participated in a large team completion to develop a vision of a future concept soon to be a reality for most businesses (going Social). It was intense, 14 teams of 7 and 4 nights to develop a vision to capture the imagination whilst completing mandatory boot camp exercises and training sessions during the day.

It was a team effort but I was convinced that the tag line “The Art of the Possible” that I suggested for the future state resonated with the judges and moved our presentation into the winning position. It was fun, it was reality TV at its worst in a professional working space. And it was confirmation of a business practice of believing its own bullshit beyond an acceptable level IMHO. Apologies if the profanity offends.

What works and what pleases by design?  Sadly I am writing this whilst on holiday in the lovely sunshine looking out on some of Mother Nature’s best, which speaks volume for the art of the possible but by design.  It is that which inspired this blog post.

I like the resort and the hotel isn’t half bad, no complaints really it is just that after 5 days and as a closet engineer (my grandfather was a specialist in weights and measures making top secret instrument in WW2) I can’t help looking at some areas and services and thinking “by design really?”

What do I mean by that? Well it doing things on purpose, because it was well thought out, it had been considered, it is stress tested, it has been consulted, and it is thoughtful and sympathetic to those who will use it. It worked, it works. It delivers a good satisfying experience.

These are important key success identifies for anything – product, solution, user adoption, RoI, sustainability, usability and on and on . . . .

Some of the resort blends with the wonders of the natural world around or delivers the experience through the environment one expects.  Whereas some part of the resort was missing the target enough to make you feel “dis-satisfied”; the exposed poorly finished concrete onto the beach, the level of the buildings in relation to each other or horizon, the closed stairway into the grand wide open spaces . . . . It just hadn’t been thought out, designed.

So how does this relate to the world I experience as a cloud solution practitioner?  Cloud computing and the click not code philosophy propels the belief of agility and speed as a huge benefit. And it is.

But by design the principle of deep thought, consideration and that devil’s detail isIMG_5002 what will provide the ROI ultimately in any cloud investment. So no change there from the last 30 years of computing I hear you shout.

Well yes frankly. By design and the pain, investment, deliberation, hard slog, stakeholder managements, engagement consideration of end-users, and the need to understand the end operating environment are all required as essential to the art of the possible. The possible but by design.

So I end this blog whilst looking at the luscious landscape and coast line, the blue sky blending into the green of the forest covered hill tops and the sea lapping at the shore. I have to say by design over the art of the possible gets my vote, even if that design takes time to create the fit for purpose experience that delivers the satisfaction of the art possibility.

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.