Zombie Initiatives and Tasks

5 01 2011

Over the holidays I heard a story on Zombie Processes.  It reminded me of the number of these I have come across in business.  One of the luxuries of being a consultant is you get to ask “why do you do that” or better yet “what would happen if you didn’t do that anymore”.  As businesses grow and scale we often pick up a number of new initiatives, or increase the subtasks, and never kill off old ones.  We also inherit more and more “stuff” that people do that does not necessarily add value.

Zombies: A Zombie initiative/task is something that continues on because no one has done the favor of saying it is either over or complete.  It can also be a task that exists that no longer needs to exist.   Basically it is inefficient effort and time.

Do these exist in your organization? Absolutely and everywhere.  The key is not trying to fix them all at once – this will get you nowhere.  What makes the most sense is to identify your strategic goals and initiatives and start with the processes that support those goals.

Where do you start? Take a look at your critical initiatives across the organization.  Ask yourself which ones are going to provide the most strategic value over the next 12 months.  Pick 3 and define the value of those initiatives.  Are they about increasing/decreasing time, revenue growth, cost cutting, elevating customer value?  Figure out how improvements should be measured.  Set up serious targets and a process to manage improvements.  Roll up your sleeves and get rid of the Zombies.  And while again this is self serving, it does not make it less true – hire a consultant.  Have someone independent to the organization ask the questions.  Especially if this is a new concept inside the organization.  People don’t like change, they fear it will expose them or put them at risk.  This can lead to the wrong motivation for process improvement.

 

Stuff:  This can be projects, tasks, subtasks, processes, or simply job justification work.





Wallet Alignment…Life’s Perspective

6 12 2010

We hear and often bemoan comments in many professions, as the judgements often seem settled from the outset. For example, while reviewing an x-ray he took on my first appointment, my chiropractor remarked succinctly, “You are an ideal candidate for chiropractic therapy.”

Surgeons see operations, lawyers see risks, dentists see cavities, policemen see crimes, and consultants see problems.  When you are a hammer, life looks like nails.

One of the core reasons strategy management consulting works well is it trains companies to let strategies align wallets.  All too often we take the advice of the squeaky wheel, or allow personal politics to drive decision making.  Strategy management is about a consistent process geared to drive decisions, fund initiatives, and find those that no longer serve their purpose.

    • How often do you hear employees complain about certain initiatives?
    • How often do feel your organizations fund pet projects?
    • How consistently are decisions based upon closing strategic gaps?
    • What is the process of funding new initiatives?
    • Could you improve on any of these?




      Visualization Methods

      14 10 2010

      I thought this was worth sharing….Periodic Table of Visualization Methods.  This is a nice visualization of the different types of visualization.  It shows some good examples, and some not so good examples of visualization. Make sure you mouse over the different elements.

      Rules of visualization designed to create action:

      1. Keep it simple, clear, and concise – with the emphasis on simple.  Don’t use complex charts to explain simple ideas.
      2. Know your audience.  Don’t present glorious details of each step in the analytical process to executives – trust me, they don’t care.
      3. Find a chart style that works well with the data.  Line charts show historical trending, bars charts do a better job of showing relativity.
      4. Don’t use 10 charts when 1 could suffice.
      5. Label well.  Take the time to make sure all of the information is explained.  The last thing you want to happen is for someone to look at it and say “what does it mean?”
      6. Understand there is a difference in analysis and presentation.  If you are trying to convince someone to act, then make sure the data (and you) tell the story.
      7. Start with the big picture, then explain (if necessary) how you got there.  People learn by seeing the picture first, then seeing how the parts go together.
      8. Document your assumptions.
      9. Explain your conclusions, don’t expect your audience to jump to the same answer.
      10. Highlight the relevant points within the data that augment your argument – use a color scheme that calls out the item if you can (red bars vs gray).  Do not be afraid to use the power of a printed report and some hand written notes with arrows to the corresponding areas.
      11. Understand where and why the data does not support your conclusions.  Be prepared to defend against those points, because your audience will likely be looking for ways to contest your conclusions.
      12. Practice what you want to say.  The more proficient you sound the more convincing you will be.




      Recession is OVER!!!

      27 09 2010

      Perhaps not all signs agree with the National Bureau of Economic Research that the recession ended in June 2009. It is pretty clear that the economy is still not as healthy as everyone would like.  Our unemployment rate is still hovering around 10%, and Mass Layoffs is trending in the right direction, but still high.  Looking at the chart below, it is clear that Mass Layoff events are declining (though there could be some other explanations as well) and getting closer to the roughly 1250 average during better times.

      Housing starts are on the rise again, yet the DJIA has only recovered a little of the value from the losses from 2008 and early 2009.  While we may still may be feeling the effects of the recession, it is clear that most indications are moving in the right direction.





      Apple & AT&T – Picking the right partners!

      19 07 2010

      OK, so I upgraded to iPhone 4.  I had to do it…it was like an addiction.  For some reason, the iPhone has a tremendous amount of cache to it.  How do we create brands with this much power?  And how do we use this for our own advantage for the longest time?

      From a Strategy standpoint, we can discuss and debate a great deal about their relationship with AT&T….

      AT&T Exclusive….

      From the very beginning the AT&T thing has been called out and questioned.  Apple has always been about propriety…and while somethings work it is clear that others do not.  I think in the Cell Phone market, this tactic is about to hurt them.  By creating the exclusive arrangement with AT&T Apple created motivated competition.  Verizon, whom most feel is the superior cellular network, was extremely motivated to come up with a competitive plan as was Google who was just entering the mobile market.  It created a substantially sized hole for Google Droid to take advantage of.

      What Apple felt was a compelling advantage with the App Store, is now just a “me too”.  The Android market is coming on fast, and momentum (prior to the iPhone4) was clearly leaning to the Droid.  It is also being argued that the pressure from the Droid momentum had pushed Apple to rush the iPhone 4 to market, thus causing it to make some well known missteps and product issues.

      By making a conscious choice to go with the weaker carrier, it created a vacuum….and in the business world vacuums don’t last long.  Verizon and Google have created a very viable competitive piece to the iPhone legacy.

      Data Hog

      With the iPhone 4 and its video functionality, it is going to need a much better network than AT&T can offer.

      AT&T has already leveraged the iPhone platform to change its terms and conditions which the user community is less than thrilled with at this time.  The first change was the cloaked ‘Smart Phone Cancellation Policy.’  To cancel a smart phone account, the penalty fee has now doubled.

      The second main item was dropping the unlimited data plan.  Users are now going to be hit with overage penalties, though AT%T claims the fees are not going to be excessive.  While AT&T is offering two levels of data plans, one which allows minimal usage (200 MB per month) for $15 and the other which offers 2GBs per month for $25.  The third option is for tethering but is still limited to 2GBs per month.

      While I have been told the fees were primarily geared to get people to be smarter with when they were downloading, this is really a ploy to offload the supply and demand issues that AT&T is having with their cellular network.  This tells me that AT&T expects their dropped call issue to either continue or perhaps get worse.  When you combine this with the unprecedented demand for the data hungry iPhone 4s, I think AT&T is going to have some issues.

      So how does AT&T deal with this mess, they are arguably a year behind in launching their 4G cellular network compared to Verizon.

      I am sure in the end that Apple has to be less than thrilled that their cellular carrier is the weakest link in its product.  It was embarrassed during the iPhone 4 launch when the demo could not find a connection (arguably not an AT&T issue), when a member of the audience responded to Steve Job’s delay in what to do with “try Verizon”.

      So in the end by choosing the weaker of the cellular carriers…

      1.  They created a vaccum which Google Android has exploited extremely well.  Apple iPhone may struggle over the next few years as the Android market continues to expand.

      2.  It created a faulty product due to poor service, and in some ways product and marketing snafus due to the increased competitive pressure around the iPhone 4 launch.

      3.  Strangely they have become what they once fought against – they are the machine (see video below).

      4.  If they Apple iPhone market is over taken by the Droid market in the next couple of years, it is perhaps fair to blame the relationship with AT&T.  If they would have worked with all markets the Droid market would have materialized much slower.

      And for even more entertainment….





      Meeting Expectations

      18 01 2010

      In a recent MyMidwest (Midwest Airlines) inflight magazine there is a story by Kimberly Douglas of FireFly Facilitation on Meeting Management.  If we look at a couple of the numbers from Douglas’ research we can begin to quantify the impact of meetings.

      38,000 msft employees say that their 5.6 hours per week spent in meetings are unproductive.  That’s over 11 million hours of meetings.  Now if we say the average msft employee makes 100k per year (including benefits), that translates to ~ $50/hr.  If we do the math, that’s ~ $550 million a year in meeting costs.

      Microsoft’s 2009 annual income was $58.4 billion which makes just their meeting costs roughly 1% of their annual income.  Let’s make a couple more assumptions: that half of that value is waste (more people than needed, run longer than necessary, etc) and we could reduce that by 10% which should be easy.  The result is ~ $22.5 million.  I am guessing here, but it should be worthwhile to at least try and improve upon meeting management and find some other way to leverage that $22 million.

      • What % of time do you spend in meetings?
      • Would your employees feel that meeting management and effectiveness could be improved upon?
      • What would you do with an additional 1% of your annual income?
      • In what ways could you improve meeting management?




      Clients are Impatient

      3 01 2010
      • How much time do we spend making the customer experience simple?
      • Is the customer on-boarding process painful, or straight forward?
      • Do customers get lost in our beauracracy, our legal needs?
      • How many customers do we lose in those final steps?

      We spend tremendous time developing technology – whether externally for paying customers, or internally for process improvement.  Yet, we often spend very little time planning for the adoption phase.

      What do our customers want – stuff just to work the first time, to be easy to use and provide the value they paid for.   If we are spending millions, if not billions on product development, why do we not start with the end in mind (see Jonathan Becher’s – Manage by Walking Around blog)?  Especially in the age of the internet, people need to be able to sign up and get started without complexity, nor mind-numbing data entry.  There is a time and a place for each of those, and it is not necessarily right after “hello”.

      One great shiny example is Apple.  Most of their products are far more simple to operate than their competitors.  Think of how easy to use each of their products are, then think about using them as part of a network of parts and it gets even more simple to use.