Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Why I hate PowerPoint and the people who love it

"PowerPoint slide decks" - I hate anyone who refers to a presentation as a slide deck. I just do. It's not 1973 anymore, we don't have slide decks, we stopped using overhead transparencies over a decade ago. I'm sorry you didn't get the memorandum.

Side note: I also hate you if you name files "Johonson_Case_Explained_For_Management.doc" You don't need the underscores, you haven't for again, a decade. Please join the 90s, it was a lot of fun, the economy rocked and we were actively ignoring the fact that all major sport stars were using performance enhancing drugs.

"PowerPOint slide decks should be made so they can stand alone." No, no they shouldn't!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! PowerPoint is a presentation tool, we use it for PRESENTATIONS! I can't help it that some idiot is going to miss the presentation, print out the slides (instead of you know, looking at it in presentation mode on their computer) and then not undesrtand what they are looking at.

Slide transitions are stupid, and I don't know why they are still part of PowerPoint. But slide animations can be useful. This is where you make things appear and disappear, maybe even move. It's like witchcraft, but no one gets hurt.

Slide animations don't really show up well on paper print outs, nor do they show up if you don't view the presentation in "presentation mode" (which is a fairly self-evident name for a reason).

What people are asking for when they want a "standalone slide deck" is this new thing I've invented -

It's like a presentation, but with a lot of words. And instead of having a slide, it'd be like a page of printed material. It'd have a lot of words to thoroughly explain things.

Microsoft can even make a tool for this, and they'll give it some simplistically moronic name. One they intend to connotate how this is THE tool for creating documents, but in reality it'll just be annoying. Something like "Type" or "Document". But more simple and

I can't stand how people insist on trying to turn PowerPoint into a Word document.

And stay away from me when they email you a "slide deck" that is in Portrait orientation. Now I'm enraged. They have literally turned PowerPoint into Word at this point.

I hate that I work in an environment where this is the standard, where it is required. I hate that I work in an environment where they look at well done presentations and are confused by the lack of words. I hate that I work in an environment where the expectation is you print out 25 copies of the "slide deck" so people can "read along". Which really means they skip to the end immediately, read the conclusion, disagree, and then ask  questions the whole time trying to prove how they are smarter than you are and that your conclusion is flawed.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Vietnam Wall Pictures

Took these over the weekend when visiting the memorial Wall.

I was trying to play with the reflection off the Wall's surface, so you'll see one image with the Washington Memorial in the background. And as always, I take pictures with a lot of emphasis on perspective (which I'm overly focused on as a novice photographer).

Friday, March 6, 2009

Why do office spaces of the future always fail?

Maybe it's just great marketing fluff, but there are an unending number of articles and guides on creating the office space of the future, complete with multi-thousand dollar desks and chair.

A recent post on Lifehacker showed a marketing agencies workspace, which was as spectacular as you'd expect for a company full of creatives. Vibrant colors, unique uses of space (complete with curtains once or twice), one even had a couch.

Why not?

The reality for the rest of the working world is we have no control over our space, and even if we did there is no budget to make our dreams come true.

Further, most corporate environments would frown upon really having at it and putting in vibrant colors via wrapping paper or other means.

Most corporate environments are comprised of people who think "I really wish I could change my cube" but will publicly state "So and so is a bit off don't you think? Look at their cube, they are so abnormal for having all those wild colors and that physio ball chair is so weird."

We're not heading towards a super futuristic office space like some office furniture producers claim. Take a look at this Steelcase 2006 "State of the Cubicle" report as evidence. Most of us aren't heading for a Jetson's like future. Just something slightly the same in 8 years time.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Why don't restaurants have blogs?

  • Menu feature of the day.
  • Newest dish you are working on.
  • A recent party or event hosted at your place.

All those and more seem like great topics for a daily and vibrant blog for a restaurant.

So why not?

The foodie blog world is quite possibly over stimulated with visually appealing pictures of the last "you can do it too in just 15 easy steps", tips on frugal shopping to keep the family fed, and posts with pictures that whet your appetite drooling over the newest culinary treat.

So why wouldn't a restaurant won't to dive in chef's hat first into that world? Having a stimulating blog about your restaurant, and especially its dishes, can help drive customers to the table.

If you are upscale you can teach people how to pair wines with dishes, using your special of the night (or week). Or maybe highlight a new bottle and then list options of what is on the menu that it would pair well with.

Or how about some plain old fashion food p0rn and regale the readers and patrons with glossy pictures of what was served the night before? Dishes are already being "plated" to look best, so why not snap a picture or two?

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Business Planning, UR duing eet rng

Corporate business planning is broken in a wide range of ways:
  • Those who have to execute it rarely have a say
  • It is usually based off of projections that are fully divorced from reality
  • Plans use flawed estimations for completion
  • They assume resources that don't exist
  • They require assets and skill sets that the company doesn't have
  • They dramatically alter the DNA of the company
And other very valid reasons.

But there is one bigger picture issue at heart - A full calendar or fiscal year business plan is too long, too cumbersome, and allows too long for most initiatives.

This last element is called Parkinson's Law, whereby a task will take as long to accomplish as it is given.

A better timeline for plans
Six months is too short. Once planning is completed, resources are obtained and put into action it would almost be time to report on completion. Planning would be constant, burning too many resources, corporate staff and confusing employees ("What's the new strategy this month?").

Not to mention how confusing it would be to customers.

Nine months though is a near perfect fit.

Nine months is enough time to complete the planning cycle and allow for implementation of meaningful programs. Resources can be obtained, there is sufficient time to complete almost any major program and can (and should) include an interim status check based on substance.

A nine month based planning and action cycle also helps the organization create momentum by demonstrating its ability to implement meaningful change (another drawback of a shorter period would be the scale of change would be smaller).

And programs that truly need more than nine months will be broken up into multiple phases. You won't arbitrarily decide to make things 9 months, you'll make them as long as they need to be but use discrete elements (chunks of change) that fit into the 9 month period.

A future that will never be
Nine months though, will never be adopted. The year long cycle is too engrained, aligns (arbitrarily, with no real benefit) to the financial and tax reporting cycles, and fits in the mental model that we have all adopted (witness the yearly habit of people making resolutions that they don't keep).

Monday, March 2, 2009

Making training better - exercises in common sense

A great MIT Sloan School of Business Magazine article has some interesting results from a training / lessons-learned analysis program*. The results of the analysis are:
  1. Write it down
  2. Measuring results
  3. Peer meetings
  4. Supportive superiors
  5. Access to experts
Write it down
Writing down the material helps (notes), but writing down an action plan to use the material is even more powerful. They don't though, recommend a compulsory implementation of this. Rather, allow people to do it informally and use the plan as they see fit.

They recommend answering the following five questions:
  • What will you do to implement a concept from today's session?
  • When will you do this?
  • What results do you expect and how will they be measured?
  • When do you expect to see these results?
  • What assistance or support will you need to implement your plan?
My one main issue with this is not making it required. I feel like a post training session (see #s 3 and 4) would really help hold people accountable to the action plans.

My current client is looking to implement a post-training or conference review concept. Basically they will have people provide a summary of the training or conference in any of the regularly occurring staff meetings. I think using the above five questions would be very helpful, and can be done less from a "how will I use this" to a "how can we use this" (we being the client organization).

We are also pushing them to adopt an internal wiki to document their business practices as well as general tips for their use. Tying the training to the business practices in the wiki would be important.

Measuring results
This was the best idea to me, as it made sure that the company/organization is really taking training to heart and ensuring it is put into use. A post training session on incorporating the lessons into the performance assessment process.

As Sloan put it "Assessment usually measures specific behaviors targeted by the training." Specific behaviors stemming from the training, that is it pure and simple.

Organizations reward the behaviors they care about (whether they realize it or not), and you must measure that which you want to reward (even though many organizations don't do this properly). Take for example a training session for an IT salesperson on the newest product. The performance assessment would be behavior that demonstrates the employee is incorporating this new technical knowledge into their sales process and opportunities. Using the SMART goal concept the employee and manager will be sure to make the goals: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely. Remembering also to ensure that you consider the "locus of control" of the employee. It is counter-productive to make a goal that is wholly dependent on others.

Like most organizations, my client is looking for more goals to include in performance assessments and they have more than they can handle already.

Peer meetings
Peer meetings are a lot like the debrief program my customer wants to implement. The key is to match the recently trained person with a group of their peers who can help guide them in implementing the training, as well as those who can learn from the training as well.

Supportive superiors
Superiors will be involved if the newly learned material is incorporated into the performance assessment process.

But more critical than that, and a required precursor to performance assessment inclusion actually, is having a superior who is open to using the lessons of training. Most bosses are ok with training as a concept, but they are not open to making changes to how they do things. So if the newly learned material requires a change on the part of the supervisor...

And it also means having a superior who will stand with the trained employee in making changes to the processes/systems (IT and other) of the company.

Access to experts
Experts both internal and external to the company. This might mean access to additional reference or trade materials, or to others higher up the food chain in the organization to learn about the "why" of how the company does things.

All these can be combined to make training and organizational learning better.

And they are all common sense.

* I encourage you to sign up for the Sloan and McKinsey Quarterly publications. They are both valuable resources.

Lijit Ad Wijit