Thursday, October 7, 2010

Proposal review sessions

Here are some items on proposal review sessions:

You can focus on a few aspects during reviews:
  • Customer emulation. Reviewers score the proposal according to the evaluation criteria, as if they were the customer's evaluation team.
  • Bid Strategies. Reviewers assess whether the proposal reflects the bid strategies necessary to win, tells the right story, and delivers its message effectively.
  • Compliance. Does the proposal comply with all RFP requirements?
  • Proof reading. Review for typographical errors and grammatical problems.
  • Technical evaluation. Does the solution proposed meet the specifications? Can it be delivered on time? Is there a better way to do the work?
  • Pricing. Is it priced to win? Is it still profitable?
It really depends on the audience you have that day, where you are in the process, and especially on what you want to get out of the review.

How should the review comments be supplied? The choices include:

  • Paper forms. Create a form with a series of questions that focuses the reviewers attention and provides places for comments.Can make collating the results easier. Forces the reviewer to state the problem and the solution.
  • Hard copy mark-ups. Let them scribble on the document and then try to make sense of it later. If there are a large number of evaluators you will need to consolidate the comments. Consider dividing the reviewers into teams and making each team responsible for delivering a single set of comments.Great if you don't want people to walk out with copies of the material, can be a pain to amass and wade through.
  • Version tracking. Microsoft Word, and many other software packages, provide tools that can be used to identify the changes made by a review and even to merge them with changes from other reviewers. There is a slight learning curve to get past if you've never used this approach before.
It is very helpful to frame the meeting around "How can we fix any deficiencies? What are the weakest parts of the proposal? Did we miss anything?"

What can reviewers look for?

  • Proposed Solution. Will it work? Does it fall within risk tolerances? Is it price-competitive? Is it best-in-class/best-value? Have all the benefits of the solution or approach been pointed out. Have all the features been sufficiently tied to the evaluation criteria in order to ensure credit?
  • RFP Compliance. Note any ways that the section does not adequately address an RFP requirement. Make sure all RFP requirements are addressed, especially anything relevant in Sections C, M, and L as well as any other sections that might contract relevant requirements. Call attention to anything that might contradict an RFP requirement.
  • Score. Give the section a grade according to the evaluation criteria, as if you were the client.
  • Bid Strategies. Does it reflect the correct bid strategies?
  • Additions. Note anything missing that should be added to the section or any parts that require additional detail.
  • Deletions. Is there anything that really shouldn’t be there or that a client might find patronizing? Is there anything redundant or superfluous (We disagree with “tell them what you going to tell them” introductions and simply delete them). Is there anything that can be taken out that will make it easier for the evaluator to get through your proposal?
  • Changes/corrections. Note anything that is not accurate or requires changing.
  • Experience. Has all relevant corporate experience been mentioned? A lot of times proposal reviewers are senior managers and may be aware of project experience that didn’t occur to the proposal team.
  • Themes. Are the themes for this section adequately highlighted?
  • Graphics/Illustrations. Are there a sufficient number of graphics in the proposal? Is there anything in the text that could be enhanced through illustration?

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Google Maps directions can suck at times

Here GMaps wants me to get on an Interstate for about a half a mile,
then take an exit that doesn't exist, to get back on a local road.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Is Mark McGwire a serial killer?

Obviously not, but this police sketch sure does look like bad news for him:

Friday, August 6, 2010

Fixing Google Reader's Recommendations feature


I love Google Reader, much to the near constant annoyance of friends, family and co-workers who I frequently zip posts to via the awesome "Email" feature in Google Reader.

A feature that Google Reader added many months ago is "Recommendations". The concept is great, Google Reader pays attention to what you read, what you Star, etc and then will periodically give you some new blogs/sites it thinks you might like.

Awesome, sign me up. Those Googling fellows sure do seem to have this "search" thing nailed, and they seem pretty good at putting ads up in searches and that makes them "da dolla billz." Except the Recommendations feature as currently implemented kind of sucks


What sucks?
  1. It keeps recommending the same sites to me, over and over. Maybe if I tell you I don't want to read it you should listen to me?
  2. It keeps recommending sites I already read. You know what I read, those blogs are the basis for your recommendations. So quite doubling down on me.
  3. There's no gradient in the "No thanks" choice for not wanting to subscribe to a feed. You need to give me something like "Not right now" and "Never again" so I can banish the really bad suggestions.
  4. If fact, let me give YOU some feedback on your suggestions. If your recommend something, let me click "This totally rocks, gimme more of this" or "I just threw up in my mouth, get this trash out of here Dikembe Mutombo style".

So there you have it Google, 4 good ways to make Recommendations suck less. Let's do it!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

A great look at Strasburg's mechanics for teaching kids to pitch

Two links, both from the same (great) website on the mechanics of Strasburg:

Excellent to read for the overall mechanical elements, but they can also be fairly approachable teaching tools for young boys because of the pictures and the basics of what they are discussing.

I won't steal any of the pictures from the links, but they are quite good. The second picture in the second link is possibly the best of them all.

You hear "keep your weight back" a lot when you are a hitter, and some as a pitcher. What I was never taught was that my body should be back and not rotated to home when my front foot hits. As the links point out, keeping your shoulders facing towards the respective baselines is critical for velocity.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

What do college athletes need to learn about social media?

It is 2010, and Twitter and Facebook have hit recruiting and agent issues full on.

The commissioner of the ACC was forced to make public comments about this mess. Butch Davis, head coach of the UNC Tarheels football team is on video and widely quoted because of his players' involvement.

A player (who I like a lot) on a team that I love, recently made a half dozen Tweets about a recent "social engagement" of his. Sounds like he had a crazy Friday night. Well he didn't like that I posted his public (100% public) Tweets on a blog that follows this particular college (a great blog at that).

As is the right of that blog, they took down my post. I assume because the player got upset. So be it.

But in light of the potential recruiting violations, and increasing involvement of agents and their "runners", I think this player and his college program are actually lucky. Hopefully he and his teammates have learned that their PUBLIC, OPEN, and AVAILABLE comments are actually being READ by people. People who have expectations about conduct and behavior.

I don't care if this young man made some "youthful indiscretions". We've all been there, to some extent or another. But I just don't want his mistakes to hurt the program, or maybe even himself later on in life when he gets drafted and aims for a shoe/apparel deal. I didn't post his comments to that end, but maybe that's a lesson he learns.

So here is to hoping that everyone has learned a lesson, the player moves forward with some more insight into life in 2010, and his team goes on to win their conference (it'd be pretty easy to tell what team I'm talking about given my publicly viewable history of blog posts and Tweets; I'm a die-hard fan).

Friday, June 25, 2010

General proposal tips, how to read an RFP, compliance matrices, editing, simplicity, past performances and the single most important question

This all comes from one source, so there are clearly other valid viewpoints. If you know of any other sources of good info (free helps too) please let me know. 

  • Use a compliance matrix to ensure you meet RFP requirements

    • Use the Section L and M of the RFP requirements to develop the matrix
    • Requirements can help show you a logical organizational structure to use
    • Include win themes in the compliance matrix to ensure you are incorporating them
    • Allocate win themes throughout the response evenly
    • Include criteria in the compliance matrix that ensure content answers and exceeds the requirements
  • Know how to read an RFP

    • Section L. Where you'll find the instructions for formatting, organizing, and submitting your proposal. When reading Section L: Look for instructions regarding page count, page layout (margins, fonts, page sizes), media (disk, CD-ROM, video), submission method, and outline/content.
    • Section M. Where you'll find the criteria that will be used to evaluate your proposal. When reading Section M: Look for scoring method, score weighting, evaluation process, past performance approach, and "best value" terminology.
    • Section C. This is where they say what it is they want you to propose (the Statement of Work). When reading Section C: Look for requirements (are they explained, understandable, and/or ambiguous?), contradictions (between requirements as well as Section L and M), feasibility, and opportunities for differentiation between you and your competitors.
    • Section B. This is where they tell you how to format your pricing. When reading Section B: Look for correspondence to the requirements and evaluation criteria.
    • And sometimes they hide important stuff (like the Statement of Work) in Section J, attachments. 

  • Editing

    • No passive voice, active verbs only
  • Be specific

    • Spend time on how you will do things, not what you did in the past
    • Results, not promises
    • Talk about the criteria that you will use to make decisions, and list the things you will take into consideration. Talk about having processes for getting things done without saying what the steps are. Talk about the benefits that will result without saying how you will deliver them. Talk about all the things that you can do for the customer, without saying what, when, or how you will do them.
  • Words to avoid
  • Keep it simple

    • <5 sentences per paragraph
    • Enough content for the expert, but clear enough for the layperson doing the evaluation by checklist
    • <20% passive voice
    • 40-50 range Flesch Reading Ease stat
    •  >9 but <12 Flesch-Kinkaid Grade Level stat, use this for more stats

  • Write about benefits, not features (very good link)

    • Write out the benefits first
    • 2nd person, say "You"
    • Make a features to benefits table
    • Use discriminators, which are themes that set you apart from the competition (a unique selling point)
    • Meet the needs of the RFP, and the unwritten one's too. Have to know what else is going on (GAO Reports are great)
    • Similarities are key, similar solutions, similar environments, similar clients
  • So what?!?

    • Why does that feature benefit me?
    • Why would I use that product?
    • Why should I buy your service/product over any other?
    • What's in it for me
  • Make their job easy

    • Cover the requirements clearly (see above)
    • Call out important items, make them first in the proposal, first in a section and first in a sub-section
    • Explain important risk factors, how to mitigate them, what will cause problems
    • Avoid patronizing by making it a statement of your understanding. "We do … because we understand the importance of … This ensures that any risk of … is mitigated. We have made this a key feature of our proposal because we understand that any approach that does not include … represents a source of unmitigated risk."
    • The summation of your proposal should leave no doubt that we are the only possible option
  • Past Performances

    • Have them! (1) How complete is the past performance archive? (2) How is the process of preparing the past performance going to be managed? And (3) who is going to write the past performance?
    • How many past performance citations are required? What are all the technical / experience areas that must be addressed by the citations? How many of the requirements will need to be addressed by citations from subcontractor firms? Given the situation, how many person- hours of labor will be necessary to complete the past performance section? Which citations are long-lead items requiring advance planning because of the need to interface with subcontractors or develop information lost from corporate memory?
    • If the past performance section is complex at all, do audit of the solicitation requirements. Determine what are the important elements of experience required to do the job. Format the past performance so that each citation addresses as many parts of the spec as possible. At the end, audit the the citations to ensure that you have conclusively demonstrated the capability to do all parts of the spec.
    • 4-8 hours per PP
  • Questions to consider/answer in the technical section and your Management Plan. Make sure it is a quality plan.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Front-loading a proposal - a key to success

Tasks to do, and/or documents that can be created, at the outset of the proposal. These are items that will end up saving you come proposal crunch time by either having them checked off, preventing you from making a mistake, or just doing better/proper planning -
  • Review prior Proposal lessons learned 
    • My employer has a few options for this internally, we can use a message board, write blog-like posts, and have explored a "database" lessons/tips
  • Develop "win themes" that are tied to customer needs
    • And your company's capabilities. This should be obvious, but a lot of people mess this up
  • Create a compliance checklist based off of Sections L and M of the proposal,
  • Review the expressed (and unexpressed) needs, 
  • Develop a proposal schedule
    • Distribute it to your team
    • Manage and execute the proposal to the schedule
  • Review company Past Performances for applicability, 
  • Obtain or develop the Past Performance questionnaire for GPOCs to fill out
    • You'll want to give your POCs as much time as possible to respond, as this always ends up being last on their priorities list.
  • Create proposal template
  • Create or obtain team logos
  • Contact RFP POCs to discuss timelines, ask questions, etc

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

IT considerations of a small professional services firm

Here are some off the cuff things that any new or small "professional services firm" (aka consulting firm) will need to consider: 

  • Things common to small businesses -
    • How big is the company
    • What can you afford
    • What are the needs
    • Are the needs generic like msft office or specific like detailed timekeeping or graphics

  • How will you communicate with clients -
    • Email obviously, but will you ever need to do blog posts for them?
    • How about microcommunication services like Yammer?

  • What security level do you need
    • Federal, state, and local government all have their own specific security requirements as customers
    • Are you under HIPAA requirements? In many respects this is less stringent than having a Federal government client, but has its own peculiarities and challenges
    • Do your IT needs create any special office space / facility needs? Federal government and HIPAA certainly will

    • Billing needs
      • Will your clients require you to submit billing invoices to them in any specific way? 
      • Do you need to track billing on a per minute basis? Per hour?
      • Do you need to track specific billable actions like writing a memo or email, making a phone call?
      • Who will you be billing, and are there any industry-mandated

    • Location of staff
      • Colocated?
      • Across the world?
      • A mix of the above where some are together, some are in another country, and you have part-time people elsewhere?
      • How about special subcontractors?

    • Do you need IT to be controlled on your servers

    • How will you want to collaborate internally
      • See above on "Location of staff", but even if you are all within earshot you may prefer to have collaboration supercharged via 
      Pictures:- by ob1left
      -  From lucky_dog
      -  by Philo Nordlund

      Friday, June 18, 2010

      Four more things you can do to get hired

      Often times, the biggest thing standing between you and getting hired is yourself. I interview a lot of people in my job, and most people come prepared and have done enough interviewing that they are relaxed. They aren't complicating the situation. But others...

      Here are some tips to help you get hired:

      1) We really REALLY want to hire you. Most people don't typically enjoy combing through resumes, calling references, and doing interviews. So you honestly have no reason to be nervous.

      2) Unless you aren't prepared. So while your #1 tip is true, I have found that a near majority of applicants who I interview are under prepared. A shockingly high % don't even know their resume well. Others don't research our company and what we do (we're consultants to the federal government).

      3) Be very very careful with that "embelesh" stuff. It's one thing to say you were really proud of a project or a team when you maybe weren't (though, that is actually lying and if I found out that you said you were proud and later admitted you hated your team, I'm not going to be happy and will question your ethics going forward). But under no circumstances are you to mess with the facts. Don't say you saved your company/client $1M when it was really $100k, etc.

      4) Have a plan of attack, it should help set you at ease. Most people only do behavioral interviews where they go through your resume. Maybe they'll ask some questions about a particular experience, client, product, etc. But in reality, most interviews are overly simplistic. So relax. Know the drill, know your resume, know what you want to highlight.

      5) Remember that you are marketing yourself, your skills, your experience. You're the only one selling yourself, so if you are shy about saying you did something well, get over it. Don't be a narcissistic braggard, but be willing to say "I think such and such project went well, as did the customer because we met all their objectives."

      6) Have a story to tell, and align it to what the needs of the organization are. What, you don't know this? Well then you didn't do your homework. Research the company, read the position description several times (if they didn't have one, call them and ask; or start off the interview by asking to learn more about what they want so you can "better answer their questions"), and then know what parts of your resume you want to highlight.

      Don't take 15 minutes telling me about how great working at McDonald's was when you were 16. Tell me about your recent and relevant experience.

      And did a Prezi presentation on how to write a good resume -

      Pictures in order of appearance:

      Thursday, June 10, 2010

      The definitive guide to Rehobeth Beach, Bethany Beach & Dewey Beach

      What follows is the quickest overview of the Delaware Beaches (hopefully to become part of the "Delmarva Coast" tag line).

      Rehobeth is more "open" and has the most to do of the three. It feels like a modern beach spot, but retains small town charm. Best restaurant and shop options.

      Bethany is stuck in the early 1970s, in a good way. It has a couple of restaurants and bars, more than enough shops for a long weekend, and tons of beach houses for friends or family.

      If "Virginia is for lovers" then "Dewey is for drinkers". Only a small handful of restaurants (Nalu Hawaiian Surf Bar and Grille was good) and lots of 16-24 year olds roaming around looking for beverages and a new "friend".

      Best time of year for sports? Now is the dark horse candidate

      Doesn't this time of year have to compete for the best of sports?
      • NBA post-season - I don't really watch, but whatever, lots of people like it and watch. ESPN is crammed full of articles and posts etc
      • NHL post-season - I watch more than the NBA, but not much; but hockey fans are obsessed and the finals are back on NBC. The Olympics really lifted this sport into the consciousness of the sports world again.
      • MLB - early in the season, so no one is knocked out yet and teams still have a "we could win this" feel; maybe you haven't even given up yet if you follow the KC Royals or Pittsburgh Pirates.
      • Men's College World Series - Gets later TV coverage than the other post-season items, but is really fun to watch. The Super Regionals should start soon
      • Women's College World Series - Insanely competitive and addicting if you like baseball/softball, which I really do. The pace of the game is real quick, which makes it fun to watch. Faster than NCAA baseball. And the smaller field dimensions mean ground balls are always very close plays. Plus you get to watch 5'6" 130lbs and 5'10" 190lbs girls hit home runs.
      There's also random golf tournaments, the French Open for tennis, etc.

      That's a really good group.

      The other competition as I see it is NFL / NCAA hoops (preferably the conference schedule time), & March Madness.

      Saturday, June 5, 2010

      Visiting Lewes, Deleware

      We are visiting Lewes, Deleware right bow. So far I give it an eh.

      Amp it up Lewes!

      Post visit notes: check out my Yelp profile for my recomendations, but the town shuts down at 5pm.

      Sunday, May 30, 2010

      Friday, May 7, 2010

      Best practices, templates, checklists and "our way"

      Or, "how to ignore a cohesive way of doing things as an organization."

      One of the bigger challenges of a growing company is developing a sense of self, of identity. For a city, it is having some defining element, some "thing", or in an oddly phrased but oft used statement "having a there THERE."

      For a President, we call it "gravitas", and that might be the truly best way to describe it.


      For an organization, it is about defining "how we do things HERE." Maybe it is an unrelenting willingness to work extra hours, maybe it is that no one leaves if someone else is working late and all chip in, maybe it is that everyone is a hardball negotiator.

      For companies who make a living off of selling services, and doing so via formally written proposals this should inevitably result in having a "tao of writing proposals." There has to be some sort of a company-wide way of doing the basic, mechanical, and necessary things.


      In my experience, the basic elements of this are having templates, checklists, and best practices. Or to others "the four three horsemen of the apocalypse." See, I LIKE having a way of doing things. A somewhat repeatable process. I like knowing that if Chuck, or Susan, or Rosie or Stefan are going to lead a proposal that they'll do it in a somewhat similar and familiar way. No curveballs, no out of left field methods.

      Sure, they can innovate, they can improve, they can refine. These things are needed, desperately. But it is if value to the organization to know that a proposal will be run smoothly, and resemble the last several proposals. You need the commonality, the repeating themes and trends.

      My employer is still at the beginning phases of that path. We have led several prososals, as a "prime". In our world, this means that we're working with other companies who will "subcontract" to us. Imagine if Microsoft and Macromedia teamed up to tie their software together. Obviously Microsoft is the 800 pound gorilla in that relationship. Well when you are the "prime", you're King Kong.

      We've been King Kong a few times, it's gone well too. But we've done it only a few times, not enough so that all the major players in the company have led a major proposal, so we've had to learn a few lessons repeated times.
      • Why would we want a checklist that tells us if we've met all the little teenie tiny details of the Request For Proposal (RFP)? Because if you don't hit them all, you can't win!
      • Why would we want a template for developing our main selling points? Because it speeds the process, it provides consistency, and it helps you to use the past selling points that worked.
      • Why would we want to have 2-5 standard ways of doing things? Because we've found they work for our company, the way we work, the way we deliver services to customers.
      But we're still heading down that path. We're not there yet.

      Helpful and great pictures, in order of appearance:

      Thursday, May 6, 2010

      Testing out Twitter's @anywhere feature

      This SHOULD result in you being able to see a hover card when you mouse-over @ckstevenson.

      As he wrote, and tested out:
      Here is an example of the @ feature. Just move the mouse over @ and you will see my username, some information and a Follow button to follow me on Twitter.

      Wednesday, May 5, 2010

      This is what it looks like when you have read EVERYTING in Google Reader

      I didn't think you could read ALL the "recommended items" but I have,
      several times in fact.

      Wednesday, April 28, 2010

      Reaction to the PowerPoint fiasco

      Everyone is reacting with glee about the Afghanitan PowerPoint flag. Here's the thing though - PowerPoint isn't really evil, it's the people who use it. I can make slides just as pretty and impressive as Steve Jobs does in PowerPoint (he obviously doesn't use that tool, he uses Keynote). The tool doesn't make you use bullet points, it's just an option.

      And I even wrote a post titled "Why I hate PowerPoint and the people who love it"!!!

      Here's what happened basically the first time I came up with a presentation on while working with a DOD client:

      • Chris makes really cool looking slides that aren't a bazillion acronyms and bullet points, but instead uses images and graphics
      • Chris presents to his projects senior-level board to get approval to take it to customer (very normal practice, for quality control and coordination throughout the project which was 500+ people)
      • Board VOMITS on Chris, telling him he basically needs to go write a 12 page report, then copy/paste it into PowerPoint
      • Chris reworks presentation to contain all bullet points, but that often times have 2+ sentences within each bullet (thereby making it not a real bullet point)
      • Board loves presentation
      • Client likes (though not loves) presentation
      • Chris now forced to do all presentations as copy/paste exercises from Word
      The problem is you make nice fancy slides like what Steve Jobs does, then people print them out or read them without you around, and they make no sense (try finding an old Steve Jobs presentation and figuring out what he meant, impossible!)

      As some of the good articles reviewing the issue point out, it's really the interrelation between three elements: read ahead materials, the presentation, and leave behind materials.

      Note: If you've heard the Kinko's commercial where the people keep patting the guy on the back for his leave behinds, it always makes me chuckle and think of this.

      One review said using PowerPoint for really important, information-driven presentations is like like using PowerPoint to make a case before the Supreme Court. Aside from being a great sound byte and a zinger, it's a totally stupid point. You'd used Word to submit your brief to the SC, and PowerPoint to present information during the trial. So the argument that person (can't recall the name) is rather silly.

      Instead of making all the ridiculous presentations do, they should send information ahead of time (the Times mentions how DefSec Gates wants slides the day before, which is highly common; instead of slides they should send a Word document as an overview, that is structured to correspond to the presentation the next day). The read ahead obviously prefaces the presentation, provides background information in case the person needs it, etc. Then you present with your less convoluted slides that are less bullet point and word oriented, and use more visuals. And THEN you give them something they can keep and pass around on their own.

      When I have done this in the past, it is obviously a LOT more work, but I will give them a leave behind that includes the presentation and read ahead, so they've got it all in one bunch. I also make sure to control and restrict access to digital copies of files, and give them my bundled leave behind set.

      Lots of fun.

      All that being said, I have seen dozens of slides similar to, though not as complex, as the one that got all this started. It's totally ridiculous on its own, but I'd to know what came before and after it, as well as what the person was saying. If they were using the slide to make the point of "things are really fragged up because the relationships are so complex", then it is actually an A+ chart because it rather convincingly makes that point.

      Thursday, April 22, 2010

      What's the proper way to respond to and convert a post comment?

      Does one immediately respond back? Let the comment go by itself in the hopes of more to come?

      Visit the commenters blog, find a post that you can intelligently comment on and do so?


      Tuesday, April 20, 2010

      The two best things you can do to get hired

      1) Come to your interview prepared.

      This means having reviewed the hiring company's website, searching for news articles and blog posts about them, reaching out to anyone in your network with a connection, etc. Do anything and everything you can do to show that you really want this job.

      Just showing up to the interview isn't enough. Even though it is a bit hokey, using a phrase like "I noticed on your website..." lets the interviewer know you did your research. If you're interviewing with a medium or large sized business that is likely to have been in the news, a well known blog, or a magazine then reference that as well. "I saw in the WSJ that you all are expanding into the Asian market, blah blah blah."

      2) Remember that we want to hire you.

      This may surprise you, but it's true. Whomever is interviewing you would probably rather be doing something else (and sometimes this shows...), and would like nothing more than for YOU to be the perfect fit for the job.

      So relax. Know that you are prepared (and be prepared). Bring at least 3 copies of your resume in case. Sure, we should do our job and have a copy with us, but it shows that you care, and these subtle little hints have a profound impact on how the interviewer perceives you.

      Pictures in order:

      Sunday, April 18, 2010

      Do I not understand this pricing strategy?

      64oz for $13.99


      1qt (32oz) for $14.99

      Wednesday, April 7, 2010

      Using Central Desktop for proposals


      Central Desktop is the online collaboration tool of choice for my employer (recently named one of Consulting Magazine’s “Small Jewels” for 2010).

      In addition to the various success stories they have, here are several ways I recommend using Central Desktop for proposals:
      • Create milestones for deliverables with tasks for individual steps like outlines and reviews etc. This will help create your project deadline structure within the tool, the workspace calendar will then be populated with schedule data as well.

      • You can post templates for various sections and components of the proposal. This could be for win themes, storyboards, or actual content.
      • The built-in version control will be CRUCIAL in your management of sections. Not only can it manage all the various versions of documents through a logical and simple check out/in process, you can also provide summary comments to the versions of the documents so you know what was changed, when and by whom.
      • You can also provide comments on documents as part of an overall discussion of the content. This is great to pull dialog out of emails and onto a system so it is referenceable later (no more debates about who suggested to remove a section)
      • Also instead of emails there is a forum for online discussions. These are great when you are in the idea creation / brainstorming phase, and won't require you to post a formal "possible win themes" document
      • You can post Twitter-like messages so people know who is actively working on what, which is rather useful when you have a decentralized team concurrently writing and editing material.

      Central Desktop was not developed as a proposal tool, but does a fantastic job as one. You should explore their tiered product offering, I think you'll find the prices rather reasonable.

      Tip: If you get a plan with a limited number of "internal" users, there are creative ways to use the "external" accounts ;-)

      Overall you’ll need to decide if each proposal warrants its own workspace, if you should create a workspace just for proposals, or if you want to use a dedicated folder within your overall company workspace. I recommend the first option as it affords you great flexibility with controlling access to documents and information in the workspace.  You can more readily use the “internal only” feature to limit access to files, which is especially important if you are working with other companies/subcontractors.

      * Screenshots and logo by

      Bringing the library system into the 21st century kicking and screaming

      Library usage over the past few years is down (though up recently for internet options due to the economic crisis).

      Is there much point in spilling electrons on how and why people feel libraries are a dying breed? Sure, I can write a lot of "blah blah blah" on how antiquated they are, but the obvious basic point is that the relevancy of the concept has dwindled, and libraries need to pull themselves into the 21st century.

      And to an extent, they are (see the image above, which is yes ironic that someone writes a book about online collaboration for libraries).

      To the point

      Why doesn’t your library have an iPhone app? Seems like an easy way to present the library and its services in a more approachable and modern manner, as well as putting access to the library catalog in their hands*.

      The DC Public Library System has announced an iPhone app, why can't other library systems? At most all you need to do is develop an app that will provide library locations and a look into the catalog. This would be pretty great.

      Taking it a step further, what if you could integrate into RedLaser so people could scan a book at a Border's and determine if the library has it as well? Why pay $15 for a book when you can get it for free at the library, or $1 in several days of late fees...

      Why aren't more libraries putting up Fan pages on Facebook? Chris Brogan has a great item on how small local business can use Facebook, wouldn't you call a Library a small local business? And WebWorkerDaily has a great item on what will and won't work on Facebook pages.

      * I haven't fully figured out why an iPhone specific app is better than a general web app, it doesn't inherently make sense to me. But that's where the industry is now, and will continue to go with iPad specific apps. 

      Pictures in order:
      1. by Here's Kate
      2. by librarianmer

      Monday, April 5, 2010

      Business Lessons learned from little league, part 2

      Coaching 9 and 10 year olds can be a great way to learn some business lessons. Especially on how to deal with unique circumstances and "interesting" perspectives on proper conduct.

      Not everyone will listen or play along - whether they be your boss/es, coworker/s, or direct report/s it is a guarantee that despite your infinite wisdom and perfect plan that people will both willfully and unintentionally not go along. On the ballfield there are two types of mistakes: physical and mental. Physical mistakes are to be tolerated and corrected, mistakes happen, people throw the ball too hard or too soft, swing and miss, etc. That is life, and sometimes innate abilities can't match the situation.

      But mental mistakes? No no no. These are because people are not paying attention, were not listening, were not thinking, etc. These cannot be tolerated.

      In the workplace, those who unintentionally stray from the path need to be corrected and brought back into the fold. Honest mistake, no harm no foul, etc.

      Those who intentionally won't go with the plan, well there are hundreds of books written on how to deal with those people. I simply recommend making it clear what expectations are, and keeping a log of willful disobedience. For my little leaguers this can result in a player/coach/parent meeting, emails to parents, etc. Typically these are resolved with a one-on-one meeting between the player and coach. But not always...

      Match abilities to the situation - Don't put the least skilled and least experienced player on the pitcher's mound. It is principally not fair to them, and secondarily not fair to the team. Don't put your newest consultant in front of a senior executive to give a presentation they didn't create, and don't intimately know. This should be obvious, but in sports and business we make this mistake a lot.

      Give everyone a chance - However you define a "fresh start" in business, make sure this opportunity exists. On a little league team, this should be the beginning of the new year. For consultants, when you go to a new project you should enter with few biases and a chance to prove yourself. You shouldn't be fighting an uphill battle. Lots of times little league coaches talk to each other about players and bias each other "Timmy was afraid of the ball" "Billy was a bad shortstop" "Sally can't pitch". These are kids, they mature in the blink of an eye, give them a chance to prove themselves. Don't be their enemy to start off with. Same for employees, give them a chance.

      (that being said, fool me once shame on you...)

      The great pictures, in order, come from:
      1. on2wheelz
      2.  stuartmoulder
      3. ArkansasSportsPhotograp
      4. stuartmoulder 

      Friday, April 2, 2010

      How to be a Little League coach

      Being a little league coach is a wonderful challenge, so here are a list of tips on how to be a first time coach:
      • Get to know the game - If you don’t know baseball well, and you don’t have to, read up on it and watch some games. I highly recommend anything by Cal Ripken, even though his business/brand competes with Little League’s. His books on coaching are very approachable, aren’t bloated with 4 billion drills, and actually talk about coaching.
      • Have a plan – I’m a bit of a planner (though my wife at times would disagree), but when it comes to work and coaching I think a plan is a must. A plan for what you ask? Nearly everything:
        • A plan for the season – As David Allen says “Start with the end in mind”
        • A plan for each practice – Also quoting Mr. Allen “First things first”. Know what you are going to do that day to get you one step closer to the season’s goal/s. The older your kids the more credibility you lose when you are stumbling and bumbling trying to figure out what to do next, especially if you draw a blank. So get out a post it note or index card (or your iPhone, whatever) and write down the 3-6 things you want to do in practice, set a time limit for each, and use a watch or timer to keep on track.
        • A plan for each kid – This is potentially the hardest and most time consuming thing I recommend for coaches, but I think this is what can take you from a good coach, to someone who really makes a difference in each athletes life.

      • Communicate with the parents - You will want to make sure they understand the team and requirements for what their child is required to do as a member of the team.
        • Like the old saying about voting in Chicago, "early and often". Obviously do an introductory email to the parents. This would be an opportune time to layout some groundrules and expectations. If the team is at an age where competition is a priority, let them know. If these are 7 year olds, make it clear that player development is most important. Provide links to to the league website (which they should have if they signed up!), the schedule, field locations, and maybe a few parent resources you may come across.
        • Make sure they know about the practice schedule, changes to practices times or locations, changes to game times and locations.
        • Solicit (demand politely) volunteers. On our team we have scorekeepers, pitch counters, snack providers, and the team parent organizer to keep everyone on track.
      • Make a connection with each player - Learn about what they did in a prior season, positions they like or dislike, have them set a goal or two for the season, figure out who their friends are on the team. Help provide them with a familiar touchpoint to the season, league and sport. You could be the person they look back on as that most important coach (don't expect anyone to thank you in 20 years if they win the World Series though).
      • The biggest cliche of them all, have fun - Which mostly means get out of their way. They're kids, they know how to have fun. Try to build some time into the schedule for a little goofing off. Intentionally plan some goofy drills. Learn how to make fun of yourself. Joke around with them, but not at their expense.Expect some hiccups - You won't know what they will be, and they'll be new every year. Kids will forget equipment, they'll show up an hour late for a game. They'll suddenly get sick or go on vacation.

      An almost last note - you will inevitably encounter some "challenging" parents. I try to keep the perspective that they parent just wants the best for their child, but may have an odd way of showing it. I had a parent challenge me and my coaches one year on the equity of playing time. This was in an 11 and 12 year old league. The 12 year old's parents wanted us to play them more than the 11 year olds because this was their last year in fairly non-competitive play.

      I understood their point, but made it explicitly clear how playing time works on my teams - I keep the time as equal as is possible given all the factors. So no, I was not going to play a 12 year old more than an 11 year old due to age. Just like I wasn't going to play the kids I liked the most. Or who were the best, etc. It was fair play, all the time.

      To sum up: have fun, get the kids to play hard, and hopefully they'll learn to love the sport for a lifetime. 

      Superb picture attribution in order of appearance

      Wednesday, March 17, 2010

      Sunday, March 14, 2010

      I guess I'll get an iPhone?

      Decision time is this Wednesday night, and I'm not sold on any one option.

      I'm not in love with the idea of an iPhone yet, I tried one out for 5 or so minutes today. It worked fairly well, it's obviously fun to look at and the look/feel of the device itself is great. All well known and overly written about items.

      I can see how the existing app structure/number will be useful, though I'm not inclined to pay for any apps as I'm rather "frugal". There are a ton of free one's, many that I know are good. But I can already feel the draw of some new fangled app, and that it'll be "only" $0.99.

      For those with one, how does the touch keyboard work for you? I'm sure I'll get better at it with practice, but I'm a super fast typer with my Blackberry keyboard. This seems like it won't ever reach the same speed. 

      The other option out there that I'd like is the Motorola Backflip as it is the only AT&T Android option. Reviews of it are so-so, and I'm not enthused to go with it. Several reviews indicate it might end up being a free phone very soon.

      I guess I could look hard at the latest and greatest Blackberry? There just doesn't seem to be any major reason TO get one. 

      iPhone picture - / CC BY-NC 2.0

      Motorola Backflip - / CC BY 2.0

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