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Because the mission of ACE is to foster 'Success through Collaboration', the Membership is resolved to promote internal communication and to enable interchange. One effective means to accomplish these objectives is through Blog activity to broaden the audience for thoughts, activities, and successes. 

This forum enables the members to share expertise and learning regarding topics of interest to the consultant community or to call attention to key work and current activities. However, areas of focus and expertise are better displayed in the Member Directory.

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  • May 05, 2013 4:37 PM | James Milliken

    The project manager is the designated expediter of unrealistic expectations. 

    That calls for superb political skills, and an extra gear for creativity.


    If this thing is a real project, the stakeholders with the hammer – the ones high in the sponsoring organization – are sure there’s a pot of gold somewhere in that fog of uncertainty, and they’re often impatient for the project manager to deliver it to them.


    They are both the investors and the customers of the project. You can’t expect them to pour unlimited resources into the effort, and it’s not their job to figure out how to get the desired result. But they sure do want that payoff.

    Elsewhere in the project, there are numerous dependencies – required supporters -- without whose vigorous participation the outcome cannot be achieved. Few of them have reason for spontaneous enthusiasm about the relationship.   


    There are managers whose staff members, materials and facilities must be withdrawn from their functional operations to support this project of yours. Those resources were there in the first place because the operating managers needed them to meet their own performance requirements. Now the resources must be surrendered, and there is not a commensurate return for the functional manager.


    And then there are the working people at all levels of the operation, often the most busy and burdened, who are chosen to add a new set of tasks – quite frequently tasks that are demanding and disruptive.


    Project Manager – the catbird seat in all this -- is not a job for those who prize routine. The Project Manager must be effective at organizing disparate parties and unlike activities that often defy coordination. Those process skills must be integrated with high-level communication and persuasion. And more.


    This issue of a wildly jumbled challenge often is obscured in the midst of daily worklife. Projects, real projects run with true Project Managementaren’t as frequent as we might have thought. Many people designated as Project Managers, and seen as being so, don’t have the problem. They actually are managing processes, not Projects.


    Process is orderly – the more orderly the better. Process rewards careful, unchanging repetition. The more closely one’s actions adhere to the previously identified center line, the better the process meets its requirements. That’s efficiency, and it’s a good thing. It achieves the predetermined outcome with the least possible deviation from the predetermined process.


    If it weren’t for defined, disciplined processes, the toilets wouldn’t flush, paychecks would not arrive. Things wouldn’t work. Process is absolutely, fundamentally necessary. The problem occurs when we embark on a nonroutine Project armed only with the measured practices of conventional management, plus fond hope that they will somehow do the job in this unique, complex new circumstance.


    The genius of the Project Manager is in understanding when and how to depart from firm management control and engage situations never seen before, or maybe just never engaged before.


    Such engagement is most successfully handled by people who can keep a varying number of unlike moving objects aligned through an unhelpful landscape. Time does not stand still or slow down. The skill set is characterized by some management specialists as being significantly different from that of competent general management.


    Project Management, managing real Projects, can’t be done on autopilot. The overall progress of a Project is not orderly. It has significant elements – sometimes dominant ones – that require innovation, invention and trial and error. Yet, it has chunks of routine embedded in its shifting flows of unpredictable challenge. It is easy to select those familiar pieces and overstate their importance in the whole.


    The current narrative among the nation’s intellectual leadership doesn’t help. The perceived shortfall in American education must be overcome, we are told, by a crash program in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).


    We in Project Management say, “Wait a minute: Don’t all these highly skilled STEM people have to come up with ideas, collaborate in problem solving with others? Let’s have some realistic balance here.”


    We have seen, especially in Project Management, how brilliantly skilled people can be severely handicapped by inability to function in group and organized settings.


    A couple of interesting insights showed up recently in support of organized creativity as an important but undervalued workplace factor.


    Here’s one, from Fletcher Kittredge, CEO of GWI of Maine, a telephone/Internet company that has been one of the 500 fastest-growing companies in the United States for two years running. In comments to a legislative committee about the most important skills for workers of the future, Kittredge said:


    “Start out with an arts degree.  Being able to be creative, to interact with people, is more likely to be important for someone’s career. . . . A lot of what we think of as STEM – that’s out of date. . . . Machines are getting smarter and smarter. What computers won’t be good at is judgment, reasoning. That’s where getting a liberal arts degree comes in handy. It teaches you to think.” (Portland Press Herald)


    Economist Chuck Lawton sounded a similar theme in a Maine Sunday Telegram column summarizing the skills required in the successive eras of Maine’s economic history. Looking to the future, he concluded: “The central skill is creativity – making connections and seeing the unknown, the perplexing, the out of order, the unexpected as challenging and fun.”


    That reads like Project Management, with the possible occasional exception of the fun part. Achieving general satisfaction among all those competing Project stakeholders is a political challenge of the highest order. Sound management is essential but never enough. You have to see possibilities no one else sees . . . and make them come true.


    That’s politics.

  • April 24, 2013 8:00 AM | Anonymous

    A good manager has intelligence, is efficient; a strong leader has intellect; is effective.

    A good manager continually demonstrates the ability to grasp and complete those tasks that are within a limited, predictable framework, and clearly stated goals. A good manager is practical; re-orders, re-adjusts, and filters away information that does not seem important in completing the task. We admire those who through their intelligence get things done, they are efficient.

    A strong leader is one who with intelligence as a foundation; examines, theorizes, contemplates the meanings of situations as a whole. A strong leader sees the big picture, understands the impact downstream, connects the dots; all terms used to identify intellect. We admire those who through their intelligence get things done, and through their intellect insure the results have a more far-reaching affect than the specific task at hand; they are effective.

    How Does One Become Effective?

    It begins with involving others, by building a strong team, having the confidence and a sense of appreciative attachment to depend on them. Many have tried; none have succeeded in knowing everything about their area of responsibility, it is impossible. Those who claim to be fully conversant, talking endlessly without assistance, involvement from others are using their bravado and actions as a wall to hide a lack of confidence. These actions generate long-term negative impact on team morale resulting in decreased long-term team productivity; far outweighing benefits of any completed task.

    A strong leader demonstrates confidence in their position through collaborative decision making; where with a good decision, everyone shares in the recognition; a bad decision, responsibility rests fully with the leader to correct, and working with the team demonstrate how a future reoccurrence will be prevented. A strong leader when needed or helpful will interact as a peer, available as a sounding board, devil’s advocate, with one’s team or with others.

    Next carving out time for reflection is essential. President Lee C. Bollinger of Columbia University in his 2008 Commencement Address states “The battle over beliefs is increasingly dominating and threatens the possibilities for a reflective mind. Busyness is the first problem. Multi-tasking is the arch-enemy of reflection. Technology gives us too much information too much of the time.” (Emphasis mine)

    A leader’s strength is not demonstrated by being continuously over-scheduled, over-worked, beyond exhaustion. If you have no time to think, if you do not seek opportunities to clear your head (a walk, lunch with a friend from outside of work, a trip to the gym); then how will you set your team’s direction, if not you then who?

    Strong leaders look for what others have done well, and seek to build on that success. Rather than focusing on what has gone wrong, strong leaders expect competence creating a self-fulfilling prophecy of team success which becomes the norm. Celebrating success is required; recognizing and firmly correcting failure and incompetence is critical.

  • April 19, 2013 11:30 AM | James Milliken

    The very idea of conflict is awful. It causes discomfort, sometimes pretty intense discomfort.


    If I give in to a contentious person, or back off because I don’t want to get into an argument, I feel like dirt afterward – the doormat syndrome. Anyone who witnessed the attack and defeat/retreat may well sympathize, but they often lose respect for me anyway.


    If I fight back, I join in the ill-tempered exchange, maybe descending into loud, personal and petty insult. I say things I may be sorry for later, and I deepen whatever antagonism caused the situation to start with. Maybe I trigger antagonism where there actually had been just thoughtlessness or impatience. And anyone within earshot will have an even lower opinion than if I had just stayed silent.


    Conflict can be awful. That’s why it actually happens so infrequently – most people avoid it at all costs. The few people who live life in the attack mode frequently get away with it because of people’s acquiescence. Most of those around them see no way to win, and/or just flee the tension.


    We’d all be better off if there were more conflict.


    Not the poisonous conflict of the failed situations just described, but constructive disagreement in which competing good ideas contest in an open forum. Failing that, we need to get competent in squelching the ugly ones.


    Mature people should feel free to say what they think, and should in turn be fully open to hearing ideas they don’t agree with. They commit to participating seriously in the development of consensus outcomes. Creative progress and problem solving make for a healthy organization, and the more free participation there is, the better.


    There will be disagreement in such a place, and it can become heated. Bruce Tuckman’s famous formula for development of high-performance teams (Forming-Storming-Norming-Performing) tells us that conflict is essential to getting full benefit of the talents and knowledge of the members of a group.


    For the individual, conflict management is a matter of specific behaviors driven by forethought and discipline, the same personal virtues that we should try to cultivate as a general philosophy of our worklife.


    Start with the thinking: Get rid of any hope or expectation that conflict avoidance is possible, or even desirable. Not that you should go looking for fights. You should, though, go assertively into situations that show promise in the matters you care about. Focus on the idea, and follow a constructive, collaborative process toward it.


    At the same time, study and practice the skills of relationship management. Be prepared for what other people may say or do, and for the constant possibility of unpredictable objections and misunderstandings. Remind yourself that some people are going to erupt in emotional reactions, often at unexpected times in surprising ways. Try never to get caught off guard.


    Once there is human engagement, the prime demand is for listening. The universal solvent of human barriers is active listening, the continuous focus of the mind on the other person. What is really meant, whatever the visible manner and stream of words? Where is the ground, however narrow, that provides a base of common interest and potential agreement?


    My body language is a top communication tool in any personal exchange, and most definitely is important in conflict situations. Visualize a person standing in the face of a tirade, looking calmly, steadily at the attacker, speaking soothing words you can’t even hear.


    I am alert and respectful. I am not uptight or threatening, nor am I worried or fearful. I’m not going to preach or lecture about behavior – I am persistent in encouraging constructive movement toward a mutually useful outcome.


    If things get to the point where nothing good can be accomplished, I have prepared myself with the words and actions to suspend the exchange with a plan to resume after a suitable period for cooling off, reflection and maybe some homework or consultation. I am neither insulting nor patronizing to the offending party. I act almost as if nothing untoward had happened.


    I try to make sure, as we part company, that I have planted a useful thought or two about what we might talk about when we meet tomorrow afternoon.


    Knowledgeable preparation and competent engagement. So much better than avoidance and discomfort.


    The full spectrum of management challenges and skills is explored in dozens of posts at JimMillikenProject.blogspot.com.

  • March 01, 2013 4:08 PM | Anonymous

    A powerful global conversation has begun. Through the Internet, people are discovering and inventing new ways to share relevant knowledge with blinding speed. As a direct result, markets are getting smarter - and getting smarter faster than most companies.”

     

    This is an excerpt from Cluetrain Manifesto: The End of Business As Usual, written in 1999 by Chris Locke, Doc Searls, David Weinberger, Rick Levine. At the time I don’t believe this excerpt was taken very seriously. Today, I don’t think anyone is challenging it…OK, there are always a few Neanderthals out there in marketing land. 


    The authors’ prescience way back then was the wakeup call that is informing marketing in the 21st century. The old “push” standard of marketing has become “pull” measure of brand value and product value. Features and benefits play second to ‘what’s in it for me’. And consumers have gotten very good at the game.


    Consumers can be a brand’s best friend or worst enemy. Brands that promise value and deliver consistently have an advocate (as long as they keep delivering). Brands that sell hard but don’t deliver are disappearing at a faster and faster clip.


    The Cluetrain Manifesto observed prepubescent Social Media and the speed with which consumers began the conversations. The jury was (and I think still is) out as far as SM being an effective marketing tool. What is understood in 2013 is that if it is a tool at all, it is in the consumer’s hand. The onus is on the marketer to become part of the conversation in a way that partners with consumers’ interests and needs, and delivers value – consistently.


    The Cluetrain Manifesto is a good read and reference. Its 95 theses receive validation daily and provide insights into the control assumed by consumer and its impact on organizations, brands and marketers.


    Jim Casey

    March 1, 2013

  • February 04, 2013 3:42 PM | Anonymous

    February 3, 2013

    Marketing ROI in the Upturn -

    My last post covered this subject in broad strokes: my ideas on what MROI is; why it will be an absolute requirement of marketing very soon; what metrics need to be understood and what tools are available.

    This post I want to use this space to look into MROI and the purchase decision process. Moving consumers along the purchase continuum should be a deliberate and informed process, and recognize that consumers will base their buying decisions on considerations like:

     – Differentiation

     – Relevance

     – Credibility

     – Likeability

     – Perceived Quality

     – Intent

    Insight into the process is necessary to understand ROI.


    The graphic below is another way to view the process - and the challenge - for marketers. Think about how you go about making the decision to buy a product. It is probably similar. From initial awareness, to buying, to recommending, you fit somewhere along the line. Of course, you can drop out at any point. So, understanding the prospective buyer is necessary to making the smartest marketing choices.

     

    Awareness = receive information

    Familiarity = seek information

    Consideration = purchase intent

    Purchase = ownership

    Repurchase = positive experience

    Advocacy = recommend

    At each stop along the continuum the size of the target audience should be quantifiable. It is not always easy to calculate but the value of this information is clear. Knowing the size of the audience will make it easier to plan the communications. Since not everyone in the TA will be a buyer, for lots of reasons, the TA becomes smaller as it moves closer to the purchase decision. Armed with this information, the tactical communications choices have a better chance of being effective. And the marketer is better able to calculate ROI – the cost of customer acquisition and the likely value of the customer over time.

    Find a way to gather the data. If your budget can’t afford all of the tools, be creative. Your marketing program will benefit from the thought you give. And your accountability will be based on reasoned input.

    Jim Casey

    Marketing Strategist

    Casey Communications

    www.caseycommunications.biz

    jim@caseycommunications.biz

    www.linkedin.com/in/jimcasey2

     

     

  • February 01, 2013 8:53 AM | Anonymous

    February 1, 2013

     

    Marketing ROI – The New Accountability

     

    Recently, there has been pretty consistent noise about the emerging recovery. It may be true. I hope so. But the truth depends totally on your business. Let’s assume it is true and that it will continue. What does is mean for marketers who need to shift into a more aggressive mode?

    First, it means ratcheting up marketing investments. And for the companies that are prepared to make an investment, I believe they will do so with a new with much more demanding justification. For those of us in the marketing business it will mean much greater pressure from our clients and bosses to demonstrate that every nickle invested in marketing is working hard. Proof of performance is not new but as businesses gain the confidence to spend more on marketing they will want ongoing assurance of payback.

    To what should marketing investments be accountable? Sales of course, right? Not necessarily. In looking only at sales results one sees only the outcome of many variables, but by themselves sales results give little insight into the sales drivers. And there are many: R/D, product development, brand equity, marketing communications, sales, customer service. Every prospect touch point is a sales driver. How does each of these variables contribute to the sale? How cost effective are investments in awareness building, promotions, discounting, direct sales? And what is the role of Brand goodwill and loyalty in the sale?

    Marketing ROI (MROI)

    MROI goes beyond sales figures as the sole variable for ROI measurements. Measuring MROI brings more than traditional awareness and image measures to the table. It demonstrates the impact on intermediate behaviors that are necessary precursors to sales. So to measure MROI, it is necessary to take a close look at the customers who drive revenue, not just the cost of reaching them.

    Some of the questions that need to be answered to assess MROI include:

    • Which customers drive the greatest revenue? Why?
    • Which products and services drive the greatest revenue? Why?
    • What marketing programs have driven the greatest revenue?
    • What do customers think about the company?
    • What do customers think about the competition?
    • What do my competitor’s customers think about my company?


    Other measures that will help you understand if your marketing is working:

    • Recognition
    • Response
    • Inquiries/Leads
    • Purchase

     – Differentiation

     – Relevance

     – Credibility

     – Likeability

    – Perceived Quality

    – Intent

    • Satisfaction
    • Advocacy
    • Retention
    • Preference
    • ROC (Return on Customer)

    But before getting into these measures, great attention must be given to the starting point - the strategy. This is the plan of action that drives all of the reasons why the consumer should care about your product. If you haven't got this right, the cleverest tactics on the planet won't deliver.

    Strategy begins with validating the basic value of the product. What is it about your product that 1) separates it from competitive offerings and 2) makes it more desirable?

    Validation can be partly judgment but also requires a true understanding of the audience for your product - your target audience (more on this in a future blog). You will also need to know your competitors, cold. And don't forget that competitors come in different forms.

    Armed with this knowledge you can more accurately understand where your product fits: how desirable it is; what consumers might pay for it; factors influencing positive - and negative - perceptions, etc.

    Strategy is the key. Measuring ROI begins with the assumption that your product has a market, and given smart marketing communications has a good chance of success.

    So, in the post recession recovery marketers will have to be more accountable. Understanding what is working, and how, will make a company more competitive will mean a bigger top line and more impressive bottom line.

     

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