Tag: Forecasting

So – approaching a topic I mentioned previously, I wanted to make a couple quick observations about 2014 planning.  Everywhere in Corporate America, productivity takes a dip over the holidays (starting with Thanksgiving, culminating at New Year’s).  There’s no avoiding that.  What is interesting is how quickly people try to get back from 0-60 MPH right after 1/1.  Perhaps this is why the volume of my posts has subsided in the last couple weeks.  I’m totally fine with everyone having the “uh oh” moment realizing how much was supposed to kick off 1/1, but I still felt compelled to document some of my observations in the interim:

  • I think as people wrap up a year – there should be an extended blackout on activities such that nothing kicks off in earnest until 1/15
  • I realize this may be delaying the inevitable (turning the third week in January into the firestorm that is usually reserved for the first/second), but strongly feel that overloading everyone in the first full week after the holidays is useless because everyone is still mentally in vacation mode
  • Having to rework any of the items you half-mindedly try to tackle over the holidays into the first week of the new year is a huge risk and I see it happen far too often; and, you know how much I dislike rework :)
  • For a lot of people, “sorting through mail” is a huge chore; that’s not to say that people shouldn’t be better at it – but we really need to be aware of the fact that it will take many people at least one full week to get back to even 80% up to speed on activities (so please, stop the “Did you see my note?” discussions – nobody likes those pests… I really feel like we all have an opportunity to be smarter about how you approach people in this limbo period)
  • As far as financial activities go, professional services firm have an all out blitz on cash collection approaching 12/31, so we need to be mindful of overflow cash collection that happens in January and not immediately start grilling people for January collections on 2014 work; surely people in finance can be smarter about setting realistic expectations and navigating the year end better (even though I wholly agree that the burden needs to be shared by front-line and their role needs to be clearly communicated so they can share that insight with the buyers)
  • It all comes back to project planning; I don’t want to say that we should expect no work to get done between Thanksgiving and 1/15 (that’s just not realistic) – but sequencing activities so that some of the more tactical items can be accomplished in this time frame would be of best benefit (nobody wants to have the mega strategy session of the century with half of the leaders/stakeholders on Christmas Eve – as “great” of an idea as it sounds to “get it knocked out before kicking off the new year”)

I could go on all day, but wanted to share some of these thoughts in the short term since we’re all undoubtedly stuck in the rat race to get 2014 activities underway ASAP.

Til Next Time,

Michael

Time Management

How you manage your day is paramount in your ability to have a long a fruitful career.  That being said, we can often get clouded on a daily basis by distractions such as continuously checking email, double and triple threading ourselves on meetings, and generally using work time to accomplish anything other than work (Facebook anyone?).  So how can we take steps to more effectively manage our time?  What tips or tricks are available for increasing productivity while also allowing ourselves time to breathe?  Is Work/Life Balance really possible?  That’s up to you.

I found a good article today that tackles the concept of time management and wanted to share it with you all.  Michael Wolfe (serial entrepreneur) takes the opportunity to share some of his secrets on managing his day, week, year, and even decade in this piece and gives some great feedback for pursuing the ever-evasive sense of accomplishment.  While it is written from more of the entrepreneurialism lens, I think it provides a good framework for looking at your life and your career through defined lenses and keeping your attention focused on your main goals.

I’m sure I will revisit the topics of Work Life Balance and managing your time from the professional services industry point of view in many posts to come, but thought this was noteworthy enough to at least drive some candid conversation and reflection.

Til Next Time,

Michael

No, not the cool stuff you get at beer festivals or vendor conferences.  Rather, the “Scientific Wild A** Guesses” we all make sometimes in order to provide a somewhat-reasonable estimate when asked a seemingly difficult question about something’s progress, cost, or effort.

I am not fearful to admit: I’m a big proponent of SWAG (see my post on BS).  Not because I think it’s usually highly accurate within a great percentage of confidence, but because it starts to draw a line in the sand.  It gives a baseline to work from.  It gets everyone talking in similar terms.

I fear that far too often, everyone is afraid to quantize things in a manner that allows for healthy conversation.  People’s reluctance to SWAG (believe me, in the professional services industry, it’s practically a four-letter word…  wait…  bad #UnintendedPun?) leaves us talking in generalities, with no real sight on the prize or the end goal.  As long as you set the expectation that what you are providing is only an educated guess at best, clients and colleagues will (for the most part) be receptive of your guess.  Because, guess what?  You’ve been there before.  You know it.  They know it.  That’s all they are after: your professional opinion based upon year(s) of experience dealing with similar situations at similar clients in similar organizational circumstances.  The elephant in the room should be revealed – we all know there will be roadblocks.  We know there are setbacks.  It’s on us all collectively to manage through those and figure out ways to mitigate risks and work through issues.  That’s what we are all paid for.

So – next time someone asks you something that may be difficult to forecast – please don’t give them a traditional “Well, uh, you see, uh, it depends on a lot of things” (my least favorite consulting jargon ever).  It doesn’t help anyone.  You are losing credibility with your boss/coworker/whomever, and you aren’t helping set expectations and drive forward progress.  Just do it (apologies to Nike?).  Take a SWAG.

Til Next Time,

Michael

Happy Friday!!!  Just returning from a business trip to the Northeast (specifically, Boston and Rhode Island) and had some plane time to compose a few thoughts around an area that has been a hot topic for me for quite some time.

Expense forecasting has always bothered me. Being responsible for things like predicting the ever-changing game of flight pricing is nearly as impossible as placing a round peg through a square hole (side note – I generally dislike a lot of the consulting jargon but sometimes the similes just roll off the tongue better when you embrace it). It just doesn’t make sense, and having your project financials hinge on it seems to me as a fairly large gamble that the original forecaster was doing a judicious and thorough job. I always error on the side of caution, of course, but there are simply some forecasts to which clients or internal audits will scream “Too high!”.  It’s even worse when expenses are billed as revenue, because it will ultimately impact the perceived delivery bottom-line when you assume your delivery contribution spread to be basically equal to (total project revenue) – (total project direct costs). Because, in this case, every additional dollar billed to the project code as a direct cost (even if it is reimbursed as paid expenses by a client) lowers the effective contribution margin % (even if it does nothing to impact total dollars profit). I have worked for a company that has accounting practices similar to this and it is always an exhausting fight to justify the increase in expenses (e.g. Client demanded I travel there one additional week that was originally meant to be working remote). And before you scream “Change Order!!” just know that my personal opinion on doing something like writing an additional CR to cover unexpected travel expenses per an SOW is childish aside from extreme cases where your company stands to lose substantial money (e.g. Fixed Fee engagements).

I don’t mean for this to be a diatribe on the nature of project accounting or expense policy, but I do feel like it is worth mentioning that I think the way we have course-corrected from the prior days (no budgets, free will travel, thousand dollar dinners) has really handicapped the very people that have to dedicate an already-enormous amount of their time worrying about “real world” problems they face.  Cranky clients, long hours, scope creep, overselling/underdelivering are the real things that should keep able-bodied managers and employees up at night.  Not whether Mark spent $30 or $35 on his dinner one night.  Or the fact that he tipped 19% as opposed to the policy of 18%.

So what is one to do? I personally don’t have the silver bullet, but do have certain rules and tips I follow whenever pricing out or estimating expenses at the outset of a project:

  • Look up flights to the city you’ll be traveling to one week, one month, and six months out to get a feeling for the rack rate and the rate that the flight bears when you start to enter airline flight/hotel price increase windows (~3 weeks out, ~1 week out, etc); this will give you a feel as well in case there is any seasonality for the route (e.g. people may fly a lot more to New Orleans during festival season or around Mardi Gras versus December)
  • Expect that your flights will typically run at 50% greater than the six month out rate; this will give you a buffer for all the flights you have to either reschedule or book last minute (or for which you have to travel during a seasonal peak)
  • Look up hotels to the city according to the same process followed for flights; hotels usually have a little less variability, and with some smooth talking you can usually negotiate a corporate rate (or piggy back another company’s or your client’s) that will typically allow you to normalize the rate you get and avoid any peak increases due to seasonal or surge traffic to a given location
  • Do research on your destination to try and get a feel for seasonality or big events (Festivals, Sporting Events, Vacation Windows); this isn’t only helpful for the flight/hotel research mentioned previously, but also lets you plan ahead in case you can get the opportunity to enjoy any of the marquee events in a destination city (if you’re going to be there anyway – why not plan ahead and get good rates and enjoy your time there?)
  • Be sure to plan for rental cars; they can have great variability depending upon the city and traffic/time of year, and always be sure to check the mileage from your expected hotel(s) to the office(s) as gas and mileage can impact the budget greatly
  • Check out typical taxi or car service prices as you can expect to have these costs every once in a while either for airport transfers or nights out drinking (public service announcement: ALWAYS choose a designated driver, especially when cabs are cheap and easy in a city like New York)
  • Look for opportunities to use public transit; not because it saves money but because it generally saves LOADS of time (e.g. MARTA to the airport in Atlanta saves about an hour versus trying to drive from the city to the airport at 4 PM on a Thursday)
  • Identify ways, if more accessible, at your home base to park cheaply that gain you rewards because they 1) typically save money on the budget and 2) offer you flexibility and rewards that you may otherwise miss; I started driving myself to the airport several years ago and it has been not only more convenient upon my return, but has allowed me to accumulate airport “offsite parking” rewards that I can then use for personal travel

Yes, I realize that I am probably being entirely too cautious with most of these rules, but I’ve been burned too many times (e.g. traveling to Boston during the week of the World Series which the Red Sox were playing in) by unexpected surges in prices to random areas at random times to adjust my conservative estimating.

One last thing that I’m sure I’ll revisit in another post – if you’re traveling on expenses, ENJOY IT. Don’t let anyone try to force you into anything other than the expense policy of your company/client. You are the ones doing your company and your client a favor by putting yourself on a plane/train/automobile every week to go somewhere you don’t call “home”, so you owe it to yourself to maximize your opportunities to see new places. After all, that’s probably part of why you took the “traveling job”, right?

Til Next Time,

Michael

Contact

Use this form to submit information!

Name
Email
Message

Yay! Message sent.
Error! Please validate your fields.