Saturday, December 19, 2009

How to document an existing system [requirements document]

One of the bigger challenges as an IT Consultant is when you are asked to help define and document an existing system. Here are some of the challenges, thoughts, and considerations on should have:

  • The greatest challenge is balance between real requirements and system constraints.
  • How can one balance what users of a real system expect, versus what they would have at the outset of the system. There is a balance to be maintained between the “real” requirements, which existed before the system was in place and those that now pop into the heads of the developers and users. The odds are they might not have said the system needs x, y, and z integrated functions until they have been using it for several weeks.
  • The document must be instantly useable to guide future development and testing, which is hard. An existing system has existing users, which means there will be requests very soon to change the system (either corrections to bugs, or enhancements). These enhancements might have been deficiencies to the original system design, which did not have the guidance of the user base’s requirements.
  • It HAS to be valuable in analyzing and engineering future system changes; if it doesn’t make sure that future changes don’t conflict with existing functionality, it is not worthwhile.
  • Requirements documents are always a challenge to write, and to be useful in general. Let alone when the system is in place and being used.
  • Is the client committed to using a requirements baseline? Will they maintain it? How will they do so? Who will maintain it and use it?

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This dog loves football

She sleeps with one (on a Washington Nationals blanket no less).

Posted via email from Christopher's posterous

Friday, December 11, 2009

Initial thoughts on exploring CRM solutions

The company I work for is starting to head down the path of CRM, we're exploring our options to see what is available and what can be a useful solution for us.

There is of course the SaaS/Software decisions, as well as Open/Close system element. Here are some quick thoughts on the situation.

SaaS vs Software

  • Either gives you a good bit of flexibility, SaaS is much more flexible than it used to be
  • SaaS makes the accessibility of the system that much easier
  • Software used to make it easier to administer on a granular level, but that's not a compelling case anymore
Open vs Close
  • Open source options make it easy to find a low-cost initial system to explore and test
  • Either is going to require customization, and this can often mean a special consultant
  • All Closed system sellers are going to claim that enhancements and customizations of Open systems make them brittle, and problematic to upgrade, which is true
  • But that also begs the question of how easy is it to upgrade from the Closed system
  • And which specific opens (Open or Closed) are going to allow for the export of data from the system (the "data roach motel" conundrum)

Any option available seems to have a rather steep learning curve, and customization challenge. These aren't particularly good reasons to avoid a CRM solution, if that is in fact in the best interest of the organization. In fact, one can argue that this is a prime example of "fail fast forward", get the implementation going so you can figure out what has gone wrong.

To me, that is what makes a low-cost initial tool something important to consider. You can readily pilot the option in a low-risk manner. But there is always the element of opportunity cost, time spent on the pilot, etc.

Posted via email from Christopher's posterous

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Why do LinkedIn searches expire?

I was searching for some answers on LinkedIn (anyone with some good views on CRM tools for a small consulting firm). Doesn't seem to make sense unless they were timing me out of the website itself.

Posted via email from Christopher's posterous

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The problem with Thanksgiving posts

I'm glad people are thankful, and express this via their blogs. BUT:

If you follow more that 10 blogs you end up with around 200 Thanksgiving posts to wade through in Google Reader (or other RSS reader). If the posts has real thanks giving in it, or some value to the reader - awesome.

But 200 posts thanking the readers of the blog? No thanks.

Posted via email from Christopher's posterous

Friday, November 6, 2009

What is this Federal Triangle device?

It is in the Federal Triangle metro. Air quality? Bio attack detection?

Posted via email from Christopher's posterous

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Brooklyn Brewery tasting

Their Lager, Pumpkin Ale, Brown Ale, Local 1 (Mauracian cane sugar for dryness, belgian yeast for spiciness), and Local 2 (ale brewed with honey and citrus peel).

Posted via email from Christopher's posterous

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Baltimore Marathon early hours

Waiting for our relay team members to show up, as I'll be running our second leg for 7.1 miles.

Supposed to be a record crowd this year.

Posted via email from Christopher's posterous

Saturday, September 26, 2009

How healthy am I feeling?

Much like the "health o meter" I'm pretty low these days.

Repainting our office at home has zapped up most of my personal free time.

Some new (and great) responsibilities at work have taken out additional chunks of my time.

A have always been best at working out regularly when I had a "something" to drive me. During the summertime it is softball, which may be lame but it gets the job done.

THANKFULLY something appears to have come my way. An old friend from high school may need me to fill in on his Baltimore Marathon 4-man relay team. I am totally unprepared to race, let alone run my 6 miles at a fast clip. But it gives me a reason to get out there on a daily basis.

And with only 3 weeks till the race, I'll need each day for sure. Rain may keep me from running twice today, but I got in a hellacious 3 miles earlier. It featured the nastiest set of hills on a half mile stretch I've ever run. And no, I wasn't being all gung ho, this was the only half mile available to me given our weekend mountain retreat.

Let's see where I am on the "health o meter" in 3 weeks.

What gets you motivated and committed to work out??

Posted via email from Christopher's posterous

Luray drapery

From up close you can really see the texture.

Posted via email from Christopher's posterous

Starr Hill Jomo Lager

Having this in Luray, which is a very quaint town with a few little shops and antique shops.

Posted via email from Christopher's posterous

Luray sarasin's tent

Amazing example of "drapery"

Posted via email from Christopher's posterous

Luray giants hall

Best view in any cavern anywhere.

Posted via email from Christopher's posterous

Friday, September 25, 2009

Luray giant redwood

One of the largest structures in Luray Caverns. It also can look like a giant shaggy dog. Elephant or woolly mammoth.

Posted via email from Christopher's posterous

Luray is #1

Speaks for itself:

Posted via email from Christopher's posterous

Luray by skeleton gorge

Where remains of a 500+ Native American young female was found. Thought to have found its way here by erosion of the burial spot.

But the lack of full remains make the theory slightly doubtful.

Posted via email from Christopher's posterous

Luray upside down

From inside a stalactite.

Posted via email from Christopher's posterous

Luray pluto's ghost

Named for its luminousess quality, and perceived mythical nature.

Posted via email from Christopher's posterous

Luray dream lake

It appears to be a mirror image, or stalagtites going up. But it is actually the largest body of water in the caverns.

Posted via email from Christopher's posterous

Luray fish market

A formation called this for the look of the formation.

Posted via email from Christopher's posterous

Luray natural bridge

Discovered after using a raft disturbed silt.

Posted via email from Christopher's posterous

Luray Stalactites

An example of the naturally forming stalactites. Green colors are "cave moss".

Posted via email from Christopher's posterous

Luray Caverns

Here you can see the start to the Luray Caverns tour. Up in the top right of the picture with the sign you can see the where the discoverers first enetered the large caverns.

You can also see the first discovery of the caverns, named Washington column.

Posted via email from Christopher's posterous

Luray wishing well

$753,739.32 since 1954. The pool is drained each year and proceeds are donated to charity.

Donations went from $25k in 2001 to $187,000 in 2002.

Posted via email from Christopher's posterous

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Nats win!!!!

No lose #100!

Suck it Dodgers.

Posted via email from Christopher's posterous

Chavez Ravine in DC

Lot of blue in those stands....

Posted via email from Christopher's posterous

Crowded Nats game....

Or mostly empty, even after the big rally.

Posted via email from Christopher's posterous

Penny candy fail

Penny candy for $1.99?

Wow indeed.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Asking your customers for favors


Customer service is an interesting term, and it ellicits a lot of strong responses in people.

But what do we call the opposite? Vendor service? Seller service?

Whatever you term it, it is when the seller asks the customer for help. There is no middle ground in this, it either creates a tighter bond between the two ("Help me help you!") or it is infuriating and bothersome to the nth degree.

I'm dealing with the later. I won't name names this time, as last time I tweeted about a complaint it got VP attention at the company and a lot of people got a lot of grief (though it took that tweet to get real customer service sadly).

But if you sell me something, come and install it, and then YOU leave YOUR STUFF with me, don't ask me to bend over backwards to get you your stuff. When you call and say you want to get it back, don't have an attitude. Don't demand that you can come get it today, right now. And then don't give me the "tiniest violin in the world" story about how if it isn't today then it'll have to be in a week, but you really really need it today.


You just took a sale and turned it into a chore. I'm no longer delighted. I'm frustrated. I'm no longer pleased with the great installation you all did, I'm now spending an extra 2 or 3 hours coordinating you coming back to get your stuf.

Reverse customer service, that might be the right term. It's a fail.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

How do I get Google sports calendar to sync with my Blackberry?


I love Google Calendar, it helps me keep my life organized. At times I have had multiple calendars:
  • my personal calendar for appointments and reminders, I share this with my wife
  • my work calendar for appointments and due dates of deliverables, I share this with my co-workers
  • a calendar for family and friends' birthdays
  • a list of household chores and when to do them
  • all my MBA deadlines and classes
Quizzically, Google removed the shared calendar feature a while back that let people put up sports and group calendars. I was able to have schedules in my calendar for my favorite sports teams (I still have two legacy one's that are maintained).

But Google has partially fixed this problem, adding in Sports calendars back to the mix! These are seemingly Google maintained, and I think the removal of the prior shared schedules


I was actually impressed with the wide range of sports and teams. They have the might Bucknell Bison under both football and basketball, I find that to be impressive.

I also use Google Sync to keep my Blackberry up to date with my online schedule and my contacts.


But Google Sync won't gobble up the sports schedules and add them in to my calendar on my Blackberry. There is a Help item listed for this (the one I found, there may be more), but it doesn't actually address the Sync issue.

Anyone know how to make this happen? Should I just resort to copying the entries to my own calendar, or calendar I can hide online but that will show up in Blackberry via Sync?

Gmail should let users sort email based on last message sent/received in a thread


Not when the original message in the thread was sent or received. If I sent a message to you on June 15th of 2009, but you sent me an email yesterday that I have dutifully archived with a label, then when I go into that label space I have to remember that I sent the email back in June.

For me, it's easier to go into a label, instead of hoping that search terms I may use will bring up that important message.


Monday, September 7, 2009

Twitterberry using https or not?

I keep getting asked to approve the data connection for Twitterberry for each Tweet I make, twice each Tweet.

Am I safe to just use the http connection? Should I just deal with the minor inconvenience?

Is there a site or app to tell me when to have wine?

We have a small but growing wine collection. 90% of it from the Finger Lakes of New York (fantastic Rieslings).

But we don't know enough to be sure when the wines are in peak or if they need to age. It'd love a good site where I can log our collection and have it notify me when the wines are reaching peak etc.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

How to use a blog for consulting projects

by (klaus)

Here are the uses I have thought of to use a blog to connect with your clients.
  • Daily or weekly status, for the client and project team - Helps keep everyone aware of what is going on, and they can learn as much or as little as they want. Added bonus of not blasting emails to people's inbox
  • Posting deliverables, including a description of why they were made, how they can be used, who they are for - Increases awareness of what you as a consultant are producing, with emphasis on the value of those deliverables. After all, we know customers only derive value from you when you physically produce a product.
  • Posting insights or research - You can do this as added value to the client, something you are providing for free. It might be pre-packaged insights from elsewhere in the consulting firm, but by providing it to them on the blog just for them, it is easier for them to see items of relevance. This contributes to increasing your positioning as a "thought leader" (a horrific term)
  • Explain the purpose of various tasks/sub-projects - Helps the client understand better what they are paying for, why you are doing it, and what value they will derive from this work. This should help ensure there are no surprises. That those impacted by the work are more likely to be aware of it, etc.
  • Explain various methodology being used - Many clients (most in my experience) don't want to know how the sausage is made. Methodology is a waste of time to them. Unless they are engineers, then they want to know how you did your work, and will explain to you a more optimal way to have done it ;-)
  • Explain upcoming milestones - This reaffirms that you have a schedule, you are managing to it
  • Explain results of work being performed or accomplished - The ultimate reason you are there, results. Don't just focus on the big picture items, let them know about the smaller day to day things as they have value too.

What else?

Can I use Lijit with Wordpress or Posterious?


I know I can do so with my Blogger account (check the top right of my page of course). I am hopeful I can for my Wordpress blog, but will it get me better results and/or stats than Lijit? And my guess is that I can't with my Posterous blog because of their desire to keep that service so simple.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Jimmy Buffett loves Jim Zorn

Or so his local lyrics claim.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Trend: Long-term prices are expected to increase as global competition increases

Continuing from the prior post on trends, that construction materials are decreasing in cost in the short-term.

China continues to acquire materials at increasing rates, accounting for 45% of world consumption in 2007. The rate of consumption grew 8.5% from 2006 to 2007. This type of competitive resource acquisition is expected to increase in additional sectors. By 2018, it is estimated that 80% of the world’s construction will take place in China and India.

Comments to the customer:

Prices for materials will increase in the long-term due to resource competition. This is a risk for both prices and procurement of US based construction materials. Recycling construction waste helps reduce costs as well eases the burden of materials acquisition.

Friday, August 28, 2009

*Everybody clap your hands*

Is from the devil.

It's true.

Otherwise 80,000 people wouldn't go insane for it.

Why not local Gatorade commercials?

gatorade does great commercials, and at the stadium they sound great and almost get fans fired up. But they need to localize the ads. Show DC athletes at a Redskins game!

Improving Google Voice - Let me control the number of rings

I had a Grand Central account for a while before it became Google Voice. I have no major complaints it has worked well as a number I can give out to various contacts so they can more readily contact me. This has been and continues to be an issue for me since I have Federal government clients. There are lots of rules about where I can and can't take my cellphone (especially since it has a camera).

I'm attempting to use it for all my business contacts so I can control more readily who has access to me. And one enhancement to the service I'd like to see is the ability to control the number of rings a call goes through at my various numbers. During business hours I may only want my cell phone to ring 3 times, as the odds are I don't have access to it (for a variety of reasons, such is my life). Instead of their standard number of rings, I KNOW I need a faster ring rule at that time of day. So why not let me control that?

I love this picture


From an article about George Mason students who are using open source imagery to map out the North Korean infrastructure. Which includes a water slide from Kim Jong Il.

Trend - Construction materials are declining in cost

I'll be doing several recurring posts here with some snippets from a deliverable I produced for a client. They are a federal government client, who run the facilities for that organization. They asked me to look into some trends affecting the facilities world.

Trend #1 -

The economy will bottom out, potentially Fall 2009, but not boom thereafter. There will be continued real estate challenges for both the construction industry and individuals. The defined end of the recession will also not immediately result in jobs growth, which could be delayed up to a year and a half later. As a result of these economic issues, there has been a one-year 8.92% decrease from the Summer 2008 peak (Turner Building Cost Index).

Questions for the client -
  • Have we seen the corresponding price reductions in construction costs?
  • Do our cost estimate models reflect this?
  • Can we lock in existing materials rates for a long-term period?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Why can't I import contacts in delicious? Why isn't this standard for any social networking site??

I haven't figured this one out yet - if you are running a social networking site, why do you make it HARD for people to expand their network?

Why are any social networking sites still making people manually enter connections? Why are you making me search for my connections? Just let me upload my contact lists, and select people who I know. I don't get this.

Delicious says this is a "top priority", or it was back in September of 2008.

"Network effect" theory alone says this is as bass ackward as you can get.

There is some catchy phrase people use for things like this. What is it? Hmmmm. When a social networking site makes it hard for you to create your social network...

Oh yes - FAIL!!!

(Image by AJC1)

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

How do I know how *noisy* I am?

Not in person, online. Especially on Twitter and FriendFeed.

I've gotten three total responses to things I've posted on FriendFeed. Ever.

I rarely if ever get any replies on Twitter. And never have gotten a Direct Message.

Clearly I'm not a big and important person. My blog is lucky to get 50 hits in a day. My most popular post is a hack item on the most popular dog breeds. Though I was once referenced by Sports Illustrated, though I can't even find their linking to me.

I think the answer that Scoble would give is: Noisy.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Do you do career planning?

I find that most people don’t, or if they do it is more off the top of their head loose planning.

But it is something almost any moderate sized organization will require. At my previous employer (a Fortune 100 company) it was absolutely mandated/required, and they provided an extensive web application to do the planning in. It also tied into our yearly performance planning and appraisal systems.

Now that I'm at a small company, that falls mostly to myself. We have those types of discussions, and as a consultant it does come into play with every new project assignment.

What types of things do you consider when considering your career plans? What are you looking for out of your career?

For one, I think a lot of people don't think of themselves as being able to even consider career planning factors. I think in this economy they are focused on keeping their current jobs. I would assume many of my friends fit this mold.

Second, I think a lot of people have NO CLUE that they should be doing this. They are more than willing to hop from job to job. I have several friends who seem to fit this mold, and I would bet a lot of co-workers as well.

For me? I consider these things, I try to plan out a loose map, but know I am not doing it well. Why? Because I don't have an end goal, and so far I have found that I am at least making progress. I have learned enough that I can stick with a small business, I could go back to a large one and execute, or could eventually start my own company if I felt that was the right way to go.

Picture by thecareersgroup

Saturday, July 25, 2009

A change in project scope, again

This is not the first time, more like the 8th, that I've been rescoped on my current project assignment.

It doesn't bother me per se, but makes me a bit worried about how my client is viewing my work and WHY they keep asking me to shift gears.

This time I'm doing what can loosely be titled as "operational analysis". What I'm truly doing is a survey of all the activities (non-minor work) within my client's organization, mapping all that work to their four strategic goals (and sub-goals), and doing a standard gap analysis to determine if there is any under/over-investment of time and resources.

This has the *potential* to be rather important. If the results determine that they are under-investing in their strategic goal to develop the skills of their workforce (fourth goal, but what the client leader described at their senior leadership offsite a week ago as priority #1) then they will need to re-scope their work and level of effort.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

How should a consulting company use Twitter?

We don't have constant feedback from customers, nor would they provide it publically online. We don't sell a product, so there aren't hundreds of reviews a day to keep tabs on.

As a consulting services company, what should we be worried about regarding competitive intelligence? What information could we publish that a competitor could use against us? Could they use it to "ghost" us in proposals?

Are there potential legal issues since we work with the government? Could we create some sort of "conflict of interest" or disclose information that can't be in the public domain?

Seems like it would end up being mostly one-directional: us pushing content out. Which can be useful, especially if there are actually people interested.

I think we can readily Tweet:
  • When a new employee joins us, not their name though. And probably not a specific client, but maybe a skillset and experience
  • When an employee wins an award or is recognized in some capacity by a client
  • When an employee wins an award or is recognized in some capacity by our company
  • When an employee completes training or certification
  • Some level of information when we win a new contract
I don't expect the company having much interest in producing comments on stories in the trade press, though maybe we'd be willing to comment on various reports that are released.

It was covered here, there are a few good tidbits in it. I'm not sure we'd be looking to build the brand of partners/executives. If you are trying to portray them as industry "though leaders" then maybe so.

Pics by mfilej, and Matt Hamm, respectively.

People please, reply without attachments

For better or worse I have to use Lotus Notes on my client site.

As with all work environments, there are a lot of discussions that take place via email. Often times email attachments are involved.

What happens when 10 people continually send responses in an email thread, never removing previous attachments, while adding more? You get a 10MB file being emailed back and forth over forty times. It stinks. A lot.

It's not that hard to fix - "Reply without attachments". Now sure, sometimes an attachment previously sent is important, you may have to ask someone to refer to the attachment and feel you are making their life easier by including said attachment. I feel that is a rare occurence though, and people can quite easily just refer to the previously sent email.

If you are using Gmail, this is extremely easy. With Outlook, not that hard. With Lotus Notes it is actually fairly easy as they have their own version of threaded conversations.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Twitter full name is too long?

You give people 20 characters for their full name? I know you're doing this whole 140 characters thing, but 20 characters for a full name? I didn't even use a middle initial and my real name ran too long.


One of the keys to sticking with a to do list

Habit. Plain and simple, there is no magical special answer. Sure, there is some effort involved in this, but the key is to remove barriers so that using your to do list becomes a habit.

How do I do this?

For me, I use Remember the Milk, and have loved it intermittently for over two years. When I use it, it works great. Web-enabled, easy to use, easy mobile integration, even the print out to carry around to meetings is darn good.

I have made it a habit (again) by having it auto start when I crank up Firefox (typically via the "quit and save" feature). This way, whenever I open up my browser (which is the first thing I do when I get to work) it pops up and is staring at me.
For some reason on my client site, with the client provided PC, the Remember the Milk integration into Gmail isn’t working. It isn’t keeping me logged in on that page, though it works just fine at RTM’s site. I dunno. I thought it was a cookie issue, but if it is keeping me logged into RTM during the course of the day (and after a reboot) I don’t see that as the problem.

The inertia is removed from me using my to do list. It’s right there every morning, staring me in the face. I can’t help but use it.

"To do list" by ebby, "RTM" pic by yashima

Government contradictions, insourcing and hiring freezes

The Obama administration has made it very publicly known of their intentions to "insource" a lot of jobs being done by contractors. Typically this is in reference to positions viewed to be "inherently governmental". And I would/will applaud this, there are clear lines that need to be drawn between what roles can or cannot be performed by contractors.

However, to then make it known that there might be hiring freezes? How can this work? There are already hundreds if not thousands of vacant positions within DHS alone. If you are going to freeze hiring, you either have to rely more heavily on contractors, or leave a giant flapping hole in the services provide the country. And doing so within the DHS space has the unfortunate risk of leaving us vulnerable to various attacks, increased crime or lack of response to a natural disaster (and with H1N1 looming…).

There's clearly no simple solution, but it has to involve common sense, maximum value for the taxpayer's dollar, and the necessary services to keep our country safe.

Monday, July 6, 2009

181 subscriptions, 6971 read items

From your 181 subscriptions, over the last 30 days you read 6,971 items, starred 58 items, shared 68 items, and emailed 60 items.

Last 30 days:
6/3: 208 items read6/3: 252 items posted6/4: 224 items read6/4: 228 items posted6/5: 221 items read6/5: 249 items posted6/6: 91 items read6/6: 104 items posted6/7: 79 items read6/7: 135 items posted6/8: 204 items read6/8: 230 items posted6/9: 235 items read6/9: 302 items posted6/10: 269 items read6/10: 276 items posted6/11: 507 items read6/11: 362 items posted6/12: 161 items read6/12: 223 items posted6/13: 110 items read6/13: 140 items posted6/14: 191 items read6/14: 187 items posted6/15: 297 items read6/15: 310 items posted6/16: 293 items read6/16: 326 items posted6/17: 267 items read6/17: 306 items posted6/18: 232 items read6/18: 283 items posted6/19: 204 items read6/19: 242 items posted6/20: 81 items read6/20: 138 items posted6/21: 131 items read6/21: 137 items posted6/22: 311 items read6/22: 325 items posted6/23: 345 items read6/23: 335 items posted6/24: 400 items read6/24: 337 items posted6/25: 278 items read6/25: 334 items posted6/26: 237 items read6/26: 253 items posted6/27: 145 items read6/27: 152 items posted6/28: 178 items read6/28: 161 items posted6/29: 371 items read6/29: 347 items posted6/30: 214 items read6/30: 271 items posted7/1: 211 items read7/1: 273 items posted7/2: 276 items read7/2: 238 items posted

Friday, July 3, 2009

Remembering basketball camp

by Zador Spanish schools Spain

  • My Mom packing my lunch in the grey and blue cooler that I still have. She always put an icepack in their to keep things cool. There was always a Gatorade (orange). A sandwich of some sort. Usually an apple as well. And my name was on the cooler on masking taping - "C. Stevenson"
  • It was HOT! We did a good bit of practicing outside on the blacktop. Drills mostly, but games as well.
  • I got pick on a bit, and one time really still is fairly vivid in my memory. I had on an Adidas shirt, and this was during their “All Day I Dream About Sports” ad campaign. Well one kid who I guess didn’t like me turned the “Sports” into “S**” and said I liked that. Now for an 8 year old boy, that was a bit disturbing. He, I guess, expected me to get really upset about it. But I played it cool, only replying “So?”. But it still bothers me and I remember how scared I was at the time.
  • The head coach had a really really shiny bald head. I mean SHINY!
  • The rebounding and shooting contraption. They had this device that you set up around a basket, it had netting on it that forced you to shoot with a minimum amount of arc (a good idea), and it also had three ball return chutes the get you the ball (also cool). It was giant to a small guy like me, but I loved that thing. I could shot 3’s all day by myself.
  • I remember how excited I always was for lunch. Maybe my most favorite part of the day.
  • 4-square! We played that a lot, I think during lunch. That was a fun game. Had to use the big red bouncy balls (also a must for kickball), and there were all these weird rules about special bounces you could earn and use. I didn’t get that part of the game. Evidently one of them was where you could grab the ball and two handed slam it in someone’s square. I hated that.
  • The basketball coach also had really short shorts, the old school coach lycra material one’s. Awesome.
  • I was always extremely excited to see my Mom when she picked me up.

I loved that camp, it was a lot of fun and I truly learned a lot about basketball. Up until a certain age (I think 12 or 13) I tended to be one of the top 2 or 3 kids in my age group. I was an all-star. Something happened when I was 12 or 13, I think I moved up an age bracket. But I was on a new team where all the kids new each other and were “cool”. I felt like an outsider and a dork. I went from a whirling dervish scorer, to a pass only point guard.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

It's time to get ride of the corner office

3638241854_0e5347db96_m.jpg or 494856508_f0d055d0a5_m.jpg

In the course of my modest nearly 8 year career (July 9th will be the 8 year anniversary, which is the bronze year evidently), I've been able to work with some facilities organizations. Facilities? You mean the janitors and maintenance crews? Yes, those guys, plus a lot lot more. Managing corporate real estate is a large task, as it involves a heavy dollar investment for any organization.

The cost per square foot is rather shocking, and when you look at it on an annual basis, wow is that a lot of money.

All that beind said, the corner office holds a special place within corporate America. Long viewed as the symbol of "making it" in the business world, corner offices are the modern day anethema to green/sustainable work places. Corner offices block sunlight, leaving the lowly peons of the organization with fluorescent lighting. Corner offices alone as a status symbol cause devisiveness, tension and angst among workers.

Peers can become rivals when space planning and real estate demands result in one equal getting a corner office and the other not. Friendships have actually ended over this stuff.

If an organization's leaders claim to put their people first, claim that they want to create an open environment where people are valued, etc then check to see where their office is located.

Also, check out how large and lavish the CEO/President's office is in comparison to everyone else...

(pictures by redskins5926 and bellhalla, respectively)

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

How to survive a large business proposal, part 1

The best term I learned early in my career was "frontload". A very basic concept, the term means do as much as you can, early in the process. This is obviously the opposite of cramming. Cramming in the workplace is not fun, creates a poor quality product, results in error prone work, and creates unnecessary stress that often times requires you to burn your limited number of favors.

Cramming on the job means that there was deficient planning somewhere in the chain. Even if the cramming is a result of new unplanned for demands from superiors (which my wife can attest to), we can still frontload the new task. Frontloading can be done on almost any proposal, and I would question the merit of any proposal where you can't frontload.

The only instance where this would occur is if you were bidding on a totally new "thing" (service or product to provide) and had a very short timeline. And the only time you'd want to bid in a situation like this if your company were facing a profitability issue (maybe it's because you are bidding on the wrong RFPs?) or you had the inside track to the opportunity (in which case you have to wonder why they couldn't sole source this).

If you are lucky/cursed enough to have a Request for Proposal (RFP), make sure you read it over. Understand what they are asking for. Observe how they have provided you with a natural outline. Outline? Yeah, they order and way in which they ask questions. Make it easy for them. they'll likely have a checklist of things to find in your proposal, it'll be based on the RFP. So use their own words and order.

Plan plan plan.

Create a "compliance checklist" now. This is a list of all the little nitnoid items you need to include. They often list out a few phrases you are required to include in your proposal (or else you are noncomplient and tossed out). These are almost always obvious things like "We don't discriminate", but they are required. But also make sure you notice all the attachments they want, the font size they require, the handful of items they want you to include in an answer.

Now, take that checklist, and add to it. Add? It's already 4 pages long! Well, it needs more stuff, and these things are what will help you win.

You need to figure out what "win themes" you'll include in each section, and you'll need to include what "over achiever" answers you'll provide as well. "Win themes" are your high-level selling points. Examples might be "We've done this exact work with other clients" or "We have the most experience people in the industry" or ideally "We have the exact technology you need".

Make sure each section of your proposal has at least one win theme (the longer the section, the more Win Themes it needs). This checklist will be key when you get to the end of the process. Your brain will be fried, and you won't really be able to read the RFP again and understand it.

Your compliance checklist will be your sane self's way of helping you out.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

How to run a better offsite meeting or tour

by jeanine&preston

I've learned these lessons while preparing for an upcoming offsite meeting for the leadership of my client, I'll be presenting on the trends that are going to impact them over the next few years.
  • Create an agenda upfront so expectations are clear - This seems like commonsense that everyone would follow, but they don't. This is important so the attendees know what to expect, and so the presenters know what is expected of them. And please, let me know how long I have to speak, it makes a huge difference. Recently I held a meeting where I distributed an agenda ahead of time, but two of the key attendees never read the agenda and hijacked the meeting. It took me 10 minutes to get us back on track.
  • Overcommunicate the time/s and location/s - I learned this lesson from the near weekly softball games I and my wife help orchestrate for a team, and no matter what we do a quarter of the people have to email/call at the last moment to find out where they need to be. This not acceptable in a business setting, so remind them a few times. Go so far as to leave a post-it note on their desk two days beforehand if need be.
  • Define and review the next steps - Next stends are the post meeting's agenda, what the group has agreed to do next. If there are no next steps, then the meeting was not useful. Even if you are just "getting people on the same page" you should be able to clearly state who is going to do what next to move forward. Verbalize this as the final thing said at the meeting. Distribute this via email (or better yet a centralized task management system like Remember the Milk).
  • Prepare them for the pitch - If there is any chance anything "salesy" will be presented, you need to make sure people are ready for it. This is quadruply important if you are a consultant putting your client in front of a pitch, forewarn them. And if you feel the sales pitch is too aggressive, end it.
  • To read ahead or not read ahead - Read ahead material can be very helpful, especially if you need the audience to have a lot of facts and figures at their fingertips. If you present too much data without any background, they'll forget it (which can be ok if the data is merely a means to convey a specific point). If you provide read ahead material, and it is totally necessary for people to reach an educated decision, then make the expectation clear. You can even say that there will be a roundtable quiz to start off the session. Nothing like public shame to get your desired response.
  • Kick the tires - If you are using another facility or space, physically go there and test it out the day beforehand (or that morning if you are doing an afternoon session). Make sure the computer and projector work, make sure the slides and videos work on that system. Make sure the temperature is acceptable. Know where restrooms are, etc.
  • Decide how you will handle interruptions - Something is going to happen, whether it be the computer crashing or someone taking you off course for 45 minutes. Decide how you will handle this, give some up front planning to these things. You can't plan for them all, but you can prepare in general.
  • Have a team huddle - If you are doing this with anyone else, make sure you are all on the same page.

I've screwed up several of these over the past 8 years, and it seems you have to re-learn these lessons every so often as well. Having a mindful and repeatible process for running a session greatly reduces your risk of screw up.

And if you are planning on the majority of the session to be done via Powerpoint, just know ahead of time you are fighting an uphill battle.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Developing effective marketing material for future customers

2515958569_dd61560789_m.jpg Image by Seattle Municipal Archives

My company is in the final days of finding out if we've won* a new contract with a government organization. If we have won, then we'll need to develop marketing material to promote our availability and services.

Instead of creating your standard company boilerplate information, I'm trying to create this from the potential customers viewpoint:
  • What will they want to know about us and our services?
  • What point of contact information do we provide? More than one to make us appear bigger, just one so there is a dedicated POC?
  • Website link of course, but to which page? Maybe our LinkedIn page too so we appear hip?
  • What type of description of our past work will speak to them? How can we cover a wide array of work in a limited amount of space (and attention span?)
  • Who are we actually targeting?
Our challenge once we get in the door (assuming we win) is that not a lot of people will know us.

* This is a specific contract type such that there is more sales work to be done before we can start delivering results.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The most shocking internet use statistics you'll ever read

The "LexisNexis®Technology Gap Survey" was performed "to investigate whether or not there is a gap between generations of legal and white collar professionals in terms of technology in the workplace."

And let me just saw I only got to page seven before I was running around my office spewing statistics to anyone who would listen (sorry everyone).

First off, Gen Y respondents seem to either be really bad at math, over report time spent on activities or should never be allowed to do accounting as they double count to a horrific degree:
  • Gen Y workers report spending an average of 17.4 hours in a workday using a PC, a PDA and a mobile phone, whereas, Boomers report spending just 9.7 hours a work day using the same devices.
  • Gen Y workers report spending an average of 20.5 hours a work day using e-mail programs, Internet browsers, instant messaging programs and Microsoft Office programs, while Boomers only report spending 11.9 work hours using the same programs.
  • Gen Y workers report spending an average of 10.6 hours of every work day accessing social networking web sites, news web sites, blogs, Internet forums and multimedia sharing web sites, versus 5.6 hours reported by Boomers.
The second item alone means they do almost everything in their personal lives besides sleeping while on some device. So it is readily apparent that Gen Y is addicted to technology, to a stunning (to me at least) degree.

Here's the part that had me totally aghast:
  • 32% of Boomers think the Internet can decrease workplace productivity, where as, 50% of Gen Y workers think this is the case.
  • 22% of Gen Y say that social networking web sites decrease theirproductivity at work, versus 0% of Boomers and 7% of Gen X.
  • 22% of Gen Y say that multimedia sharing web sites decrease their productivity at work, versus only 3% of Boomers and 7% of Xers.
  • 15% of Yers think Blogs decrease their workplace productivity ,versus only 1% of Boomers and 4% of Gen Xers.
  • 53% of Gen Yers agree that personal devices, such as Blackberries and mobile phones, encourage too much multi-tasking.
Gen Y says they use technology of some sort nearly every hour of the waking day, HOWEVER, they also think it all makes them less productive.

UNPLUG DUDE! Turn that stuff off...

Somewhat related, "Almost three times as many Gen Y workers (39%) report using gaming programs at work than Boomers (14%)." 39% of Gen Y admit to LYING, CHEATING and STEALING from their company. They lie to their boss about doing work. They cheat the company from their time. If they bill a client they are stealing the clients money, as well as their salary from their employer.

Read the whole thing, it is informative and not too long.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

No more public Google Calendars?

calendar_sm2_en.gifI can no long search and find other calendards to incorporate into mine via Google Calendar.

Previously I could add calendars for the University of Maryland's football and basketball teams, and the Washington Redskins. I wanted to have the Washington Nationals so I could quickly tell when and against whom they are playing. But I can't find any option to add other calendars anymore.

Ah-ha! This feature was removed. WHAT? As the help forum makes clear, people aren't happy, and I'm not either.

Here is Google's reasoning for the removal of the feature, "These were specialized U.S. English-only features that weren't used as extensively as we would have liked, and proved difficult to maintain over time."

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