Transparency – Applying the ‘Price Tag Approach’

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A valuable guiding principle in business (particularly in technology) is to never “protect” your business partners from the consequences of their decisions.

I’m a big believer in what I’ll call the “price tag” approach and it goes something like this.  Suppose you’re a sales associate at the local Jaguar dealership.  If your customer is a first-time Jaguar buyer, it’s probably a good idea to explain that purchasing a Jaguar loaded up with options is also a purchase of more expensive service calls, oil changes, repairs and of course an increased risk that some kid will snap the cat off your hood.  This way, 3,000 miles later, you don’t have an angry customer complaining about the $100 oil change he just paid for.  All you’re doing is setting expectations by helping your customer understand the consequences of his decision – something he may not know and may not ask.

Too often we assume that upper management already knows and understands all the implications of their decisions and requests.  After all, they ARE management.  However, this is almost never the case.  Management relies on the thought leadership of their teams to ensure that they have every opportunity to never make a bad business decision.  Therefore, consider applying the principles below in establishing your own strong brand of transparency within your firm:

  • Understand The Request: Fully understanding the request itself isn’t enough.  More important is understanding the desired business outcome of the request.  Your CIO wants X, but for what purpose?  WHY does she want X?  Understand the business problem that needs to be solved and not just the specifics of the tactical request.
  • Understand and Surface ALL Costs: This includes not simply the financial costs but also the impacts to other initiatives and stakeholders.  While the request may come from your CIO, there may be implications that span a broader area than the CIO’s scope of responsibility.  Think in terms of impact to the business, holistically and not simply within your silo.
  • Identify Risks: Make sure you identify and clearly communicate any risks associated with fulfilling the request, providing mitigation or avoidance options where available.
  • Document & Deliver Options: With the desired business outcome in mind, communicate what options are available, listing pros and cons for each and documenting them in a brief but clear email with all appropriate stakeholders cc’d.  Include risks and mitigation/avoidance strategies.
  • Make A Recommendation: Always deliver such information with a recommendation by you and your team.  Dumping a problem on the bosses desk is bad.  Delivering a problem with options is better.  Informing your boss of the options and making a recommendation is optimal.  What do you recommend your boss do and why?  Help make her successful.
  • Follow Up: Respectfully and reasonably follow up to ensure a decision is made, that the “full price tag” is understood and accepted, DOCUMENT THE FINAL DECISION and then execute.

Transparency is a great buzz word that we all like to use – me included.  However, transparency is a two-way street.  Applying the ‘price tag’ approach to transparency will help ensure that you and your teams provide your boss and your business partners the valuable opportunity to never make a bad decision.

© 2013, Mark E. Calabrese

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When & How To Document Brief Conversations

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Documenting brief conversations may seem like unnecessary administrivia, but ask yourself this question; how is a brief conversation – especially one that results in an agreed-upon decision – any different than a meeting?  The number of versions about what was decided at a meeting can be calculated by adding the number of attendees + 1.  This is why meetings are documented with minutes that include decisions reached and action items assigned.  Brief conversations that result in a decision are no different.  Document such conversations by writing to the key stakeholder with other stakeholders cc’d.  Keep it simple and to the point, as in the example below:

Example: As we discussed, the end date for the current project will be moved from Friday, September 6th to Friday, September 27th to accommodate the additional three weeks required to address agreed-upon changes in scope.  Please note that this date change will also impact project Y, which depends on deliverables from our efforts.  I have cc’d John on this email to ensure he and his team are informed. 

This date change will be reflected in the next project status report, to be delivered this Friday.  Please let me know if there are any questions, corrections and additions.

The key components here are:

  • Clearly communicating the decision(s) made
  • Providing brief details as to why the decision was made
  • Including any pertinent details regarding how the decision will be communicated to others, carried out, etc.
  • Communicating any impacts to other projects, stakeholders, work, etc., as a result of the decision

Make sure to also set (or re-set) expectations with all stakeholders such that you avoid any unpleasant surprises.  Documenting one-off conversations is a simple way to ensure that all stakeholders are provided the information they need in order to do their jobs and to make their teams and the firm successful.

© 2013, Mark E. Calabrese

Making Your Needs Known: Three Questions To Answer

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Your boss and your business partners get lots of requests.  How do you make sure that your requests get the visibility and action that is needed for you and your teams to be successful?  The key is simplicity – be brief and clear.  There are three key pieces of information that should be included in your email request:

  • What do you need?
  • When do you need it?
  • What will happen if you don’t get it?

What You Need: Keep it brief and clear.  Don’t provide a detailed history of the request, technical details, long horror stories, etc.  Do provide enough information so that the reader gets it on the first pass – be as clear as possible.  The desired response to your email is a “yes” and not a long thread with Q&A about the details, so take a moment and ask yourself if you are being clear.

When Do You Need It: This is your message to the world that you and your team are likely to fail unless your request is granted.  This is not necessarily a time to try and “game the system” by asking for something on Tuesday when you can wait until Friday.  Use your own judgment if my advice here will get you in trouble at your own company.  Another tip – don’t just give the day, but also give the date and (if relevant) the time.  Finally, it may be worth your time to explain why you need it when you need it.

What Will Happen If You Don’t Get It: This is the key part of your email.  Avoid the temptation to be dramatic.  Instead, be clear as to the operational and business implications of you not getting what you are requesting.  Keep in mind that yours will not be the only request crossing your boss’ desk, so framing the implications in a business or operational context will help her make the best decision for the business and will also help brand you as a leader who can think past his own silo.

Summary

Although you are clear about what you need and the implications of your not getting it, sometimes your boss is going to say ‘no’.  Therefore, make sure you have options either in your head or in your email.  This way you are less likely to paint your boss in a corner if she simply cannot honor your request at present.

A good leader doesn’t just surface problems.  He also offers options/solutions and a recommendation.  Help make both you and your boss successful by sharing your thought leadership and presenting her options if your request can’t be honored.  Don’t drown her with details.  Instead, keep it simple and focus on the business impact.

© 2013, Mark E. Calabrese

New Beginnings

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Late last year, I left my position with Thomson Reuters to take a GM role with internet start-up, ChaCha.  The firm was founded by serial inventor, thinker and entrepreneur, Scott Jones.  Initially, I went down to Carmel, Indiana to see what this was all about after being contacted by Doug Rowe, who runs ProfyleTracker – an Indy recruiting firm.  A good friend and colleague, Greg Siefert, served as their CTO for a year.

After only a few hours with Scott, listening to his vision for ChaCha, I was hooked.  The current site doesn’t really give a good indication of what’s to come.  Check the App Store in mid/late March of this year and try out our application.  We’re taking internet Q&A to the next logical level and make it far more interactive than it’s been before.

Much more to come!

i.c.stars

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I got a nice mention regarding i.c.stars and their i.c.idols competition.  I’ve worked with Aaron Cox, participating in and supporting this competition for this very worthwhile group.  I highly recommend i.c.stars to anyone out there, looking for a way to give back to the greater community.  Good people doing good things!

Project Management in an Agency Model: Acting as a Steward (Part 5)

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Another thing worth mentioning about project management in an agency model; things tend to get busy during Q1!  After quite a few weeks of business-imposed hiatus, I’m back to finishing up this post.

To get us caught up, in reviewing Project Management in an Agency Model we’ve covered the opportunity available to project managers, what it means to manage the project experience and how knowing the business impacts your ability to add value to your client, your firm and your own brand/career.  In this installment, we’ll talk about what it means to act as a steward to your client and your firm.

A quick check of www.dictionary.com defines ‘steward’ as “a person who manages another’s property or financial affairs.”  This is your role as the project manager.  You are responsible for advising your client on how to best manage their project investment to successfully solve their business problems.  By so doing, you are also helping manage your client’s reputation within their firm and, depending on the scope of the project, within their industry.

As trusted advisor and steward to your client, the best approach is to treat their problems, their investment and their reputation as if they were yours.  Your knowledge of the product or service you are implementing, as well as your understanding of their business and industry puts you in a unique position to help your clients achieve success.  Partner with them, taking the attitude that this is also your project and while you are aligned with your client, their interests and yours are one in the same.

Likewise, you are a steward and advisor to your own firm.  As noted previously, every word you speak or write, every conversation, every meeting, even how you hang up the phone at the end of a conference call builds on your firm’s brand and reputation.  As with your client, treat your firm’s brand and reputation as your own.

The same is true with your firm’s money.  As the project manager, you have an opportunity to drive profitability (especially in a fixed fee model) by managing your project in such a way as to make the best use out of every hour spent.  By managing your project efficiently, you not only maximize the output from the team but you can also free up enough time to allow team resources to focus on other billable work.

You also are in a good position to leverage the firm’s primary investment – talent.  How you manage your project team, how you deal with conflicts and issues internally, all help brand you, your PMO team and your delivery organization within the firm.  By focusing on making not only your project, but everyone associated with the project successful, you contribute to making your firm a great place to work.  This is how you can help keep your firm’s top talent WITH YOUR FIRM.

Ultimately, the best thing you can bring to your clients and your firm is your solid commitment to uphold and live out your values as a project management professional.  Acting as a steward and trusted advisor makes you effective at delivering on your specific tactical objectives, but also makes you a major strategic asset to your firm in retaining both clients and talent.  Act as a steward, focusing on making your peers and clients successful.

© 2011, Mark E. Calabrese

Project Management in an Agency Model: Knowing The Business (Part 4)

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As we continue to explore Project Management in an Agency Model, we’ve reviewed the various opportunities for project managers in this model and we’ve also talked about what it means to “manage the experience”.  In this installment, we’ll discuss the importance of Knowing the Business as a way to further leverage the agency model to further the interests of your clients, your firm and your own career.

If your firm focuses on a specific vertical, you have an advantage in that you’ll be able to gain industry knowledge, valuable to your client, as your career progresses.  Apart from what you’ll learn on your projects and by talking to your clients, there are some other things you can do to learn your client’s business:

  • Talk to your Sales and/or Account Management teams on a regular basis.  Ask lots of questions and learn as much as you can, not only about the current business climate in your clients’ vertical, but any anticipated changes, trends or …
  • Get the names of any good industry blogs read by your clients or by your Sales and/or Account Management teams.  Also, find out if there are any trade publications, particularly that focus on the application of current and new technologies to your client’s existing business.
  • Find any books or primers that discuss your clients’ business – again, where possible, focusing on the application of current technologies to overcome existing or potential barriers to your clients’ continued success.
  • Get active in the community.  Are there any SIGs (special interest groups) in your city that focus on your clients’ vertical?  These are not only good ways to expand your knowledge, but also to network and get to know others in your PM community
  • Talk to your colleagues.  You can benefit from the experiences of those who’ve been with your firm longer than you.  You can also benefit from getting fresh perspectives from new hires.  Finally, you can exchange thoughts and ideas with your colleagues on a regular basis, whether formally or informally.

For those of us whose firms perform work across multiple verticals, knowing the business is more of a challenge.  The best thing you can do for yourself in this model is to “get comfortable with being uncomfortable.”  By this, I mean developing a way to come into a new industry and figure out what’s what.  This is fairly typical in project management anyway, as we oftentimes find ourselves having to quickly become “experts” in aspects of our clients’ business that are new to us.

  • Seek to understand and ask relevant questions.  Your focus should be to understand the business context and business impact of all aspects of the project.  You’re there to partner with your client to ensure they solve their problem(s) as efficiently and pragmatically as possible, within the guidelines of the project statement of work.  Make it a point of pride to admit that you don’t know, then find out.
  • If you find that asking certain general questions net positive results, write the questions down and develop a repeatable framework.
  • Leverage your general experiences.  The one thing that every engagement has in common is people, and people tend to generally behave the same in most circumstances.  Understanding your client’s motivation (both stated and unstated) is also key and can be gleaned from what you observe, based on what you’ve experienced in the past.
  • Listen to what your peers, colleagues and customers have to say.

While you can’t know everything about every business, you can learn how to learn.  That’s the essence of consulting and is very often the case with project management.  The best way that you can earn the role of ‘trusted advisors’ to your clients is by understanding the unique nature of their business and the challenges that they face, organizationally, operationally and technologically.  Your ability to leverage your firms capabilities to address your client’s business problems, delivered with your own ability to think creatively, collaborate and to advise your clients on how they can partner with your firm to give them a competitive advantage is the greatest contribution you can make to your clients, your firm and to your own career.

© 2011, Mark E. Calabrese