Tag: Rant

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I know I spoke about Delta’s fantastic customer service via Twitter recently, so I figured it only appropriate to bring up a recent case where customer service missed the mark.  Cue Macy’s.

I always look forward to the Cyber Monday, Friends & Family, any promotion really.  I’d like to consider myself a relatively savvy shopper.  I never pay full price in retail.  You shouldn’t either.  If you don’t realize that Banana Republic is 40% off every Wednesday, Jos A Bank is buy 1 get (insert some number >1) free every day, or that big box stores regularly price down pretty much everything, you’re not being a very mindful shopper.

That being said – it frustrates me to no extent that on a recent online shopping excursion to Macy’s, I wound up ordering two items which they claimed (after the fact) to no longer be in stock.  What frustrates me about this?

Let’s start with:

  • You have the ability to tell me (at the time of sale) if a product is in my size; how could that information prove wrong after the fact?
  • How awful are your supply chain practices that you can’t really tell me if my item can be sourced prior to my checkout (never mind the fact that I ordered 10 separate items that they had to split into four different shipments)
  • What do you think is so appropriately apologetic about giving me 20% off some other item?  I wanted the pants I ordered, not some other similar item
  • Why can’t you do something more personal to apologize for your transgression?

There is a lot more about this event that bothers me, but I had to get at least a portion of it off my chest while I was thinking about it.  Poor performance, Macy’s.  Poor performance.

Til Next Time,

Michael

Startups frustrate me. I think we (as Americans especially) have gotten way too complacent with the perception that, given a few simple pre-requisites, there is an assumed ability to create a company from scratch and quickly work our way to profitability within a very short period of time. The thought that we can just take someone who’s good at X, place them with someone who’s good at Y, and let them all roll under the boss who’s good at Z and end up -voila- with a good foundation is simply asinine to me.

As my rant for the day, here’s a short list of the reasons I am generally (but certainly not always) anti-startup:

  • Many times, they don’t solve a real problem (“Man, have you ever wanted a necktie made totally out of carbon fiber? That would be SO COOL!”)
  • The business cases and ROI models are unrealistic (“I think if we can get $200k to hyper accelerate production, we can sell a million units this year and be cash flow positive in 9 months”)
  • Supply chain is extremely complicated but often assumed to be easy (“Surely we can get someone to manufacture our shirts for $1 apiece; can’t we just get the materials from overseas?”)
  • Good advertising/PR is very tough to pull off while being genuine and avoiding straight self-promotion (“Hey Facebook! I know we haven’t talked in a while but you should totally buy my AWESOME keychain for $5! Portion of proceeds benefit the save-the-polar-bears project!”)
  • Working harder instead of working smarter doesn’t always produce the best results (“Phew, we worked sooooo many hours this month, our company MUST be better for it”)

Alas, I could go on for days. But I won’t. I really don’t loathe the startup mentality. But I do think we as a society have recently gotten a bit too generous with our funding of wild startup initiatives.

Til Next Time,
Michael

I realize this is old news.  However, I was on vacation for a few days since then, and really needed some time to let the gravity of it all sink in.  I think this deal is absolutely horrible for the consumer.  I know I’m not alone in that sentiment (99.9% of consumers likely agree), so let me give some deeper perspective.

Here’s what I think will happen as a result of this joining of forces.  Papa Bear (Comcast) will:

  • Bring in Consulting Firm ABC* because they have “wealth of knowledge” of TWC infrastructure
  • Allow ABC to do 12-18 months of “current state analysis” to isolate gaps, dependencies, or similarities
  • Bite off on ABC’s recommendation to let ABC chew over the fundamental differences for another 18-24 months and conduct mass quantities of stakeholder interviews
  • Receive a proposal for how the new landscape should look and where the key integration points (people, process, technology, etc) are
  • Receive a (similar) proposal for the number of dollars it will take for ABC to “help along the way”
  • Altogether (~4 years later at this point) pay ungodly sums of money for implementation/integration of the companies to never come to fruition
  • Keep the companies operating as virtually-separate entities, with shared processes for minute activities where consolidation was a no-brainer
  • Pass on costs directly to consumers who will be handcuffed to Papa Bear’s services

In an upcoming post I plan to give a brief, humorous idea I have on how this Post-Merger-Integration could work better.  It’s 90% sarcasm, 10% truth.

Til Next Time,

Michael

*I have a feeling I know who firm ABC is too, and in my opinion: Uh Oh.

In the interest of full disclosure, I do not have a PMP certification – so you may not think I’m the right guy to talk about this topic.  For that matter, I have no classical training in Project Management.  Sure, I have learned the ropes by living in a project management driven world since my beginnings back in college as a part-time custom software developer testing manager.  But I don’t have any certifications, degrees, or really any preferred methodology to tackle “project management”.

That being said, I have been around it enough to know that there is something about traditional project management that really bugs me.  Additionally, the concept that PMP certifications make someone a “better project manager” is farcical at best in my experiences.  Let me explain why.

Traditional project management, at its core, is not a bad thing.  It’s absolutely necessary, and delivering projects would be impossible without some form of ground rules or marching orders.  Effectively, the concept of project management is pretty simple and I believe very sound in its guiding principles (I’m taking some creative licensing with my concept of these principles, so don’t nail me if I’m overstating or miss a few):

  • Projects should have defined scope, schedule, and budget that the manager should monitor and report against
  • Projects should have a detailed work breakdown structure or project plan
  • Project plans should have clearly identified dependencies and the ability to discern critical path for project completion
  • Project managers should proactively and continually identify and mitigate risks according to a defined target date
  • Projects should engage all appropriate stakeholders (on internal teams as well as from boundary partners) and include them on project execution dialogue
  • Project managers should alert stakeholders of issues and organize the necessary parties to resolve any issues (i.e. risks that miss mitigation by deadlines)
  • Project reporting and communications should occur at defined intervals
  • Projects should have an executive steering committee and some form of governance to quickly and rationally work through any major decisions during the project lifecycle

And this all sounds great.  I don’t have an issue with it.  Where my proverbial beef comes in is when you dig a bit deeper into some of these principles.  The major risks (no pun intended) I see with these guidelines is that they can very easily lead to poor execution based upon the “hiccups” that happen.  For instance, just a few of the speed bumps that projects run into which are extremely difficult to navigate because traditional project management ignorantly expects only sunny day scenarios:

  • Scope, schedule, and budget are all forecasted at some point in time with only a minor portion of the information available; hence, it should be expected that these “forecasts” will prove wrong in at least one of the areas at some point in the project – and that shouldn’t be a bad thing (but too often is a major indictment to the manager or the whole team)
  • Dependencies are a beast and should never be reduced simply to a line in a project plan; as much as you plan for them – the fact is you are handcuffed to someone else, an external process, or something totally out of your control
  • Project plans, when managed diligently, leave project managers with no capacity to think about the “bigger picture”; the inability to step back and look at the plan from the outside often leads teams to continue towards “the plan” when in reality – the plan may very well need to change because of several factors (new business direction, corporate strategy differences, or updated market/financial dynamics)
  • Along the lines of scope/schedule/budget/status/project plans – people resent status monkeys; when you reduce the project manager to being a status monkey that is responsible for organizing a whole team’s worth of updates on individual project line items, you are not using that manager to their full potential (and are turning them into an administrator for electronic information aggregation – something these computers we have do quite well already without a human behind the keys)
  • Project reporting and communications get stale and people become numb to them; the real challenge is to define a cadence where everyone gets timely and pertinent information for them – the right people get the right information at the right time to act upon it
  • Most executive steering committees are not engaged in the right situations to earn their keep; executive steering is one of the most important components for any major project because at least once, you should expect to have to engage them for a very important decision (e.g. delaying a launch, limiting scope, requesting more budget)
  • Change Management is almost always afterthought for the “project team” (even in the projects where it is assumed/expected that Change Management will be executed by project personnel); the inability to proactively manage change implications and promote awareness across the whole corporation for major changes is an area where I see projects turn South far too often because the critical change functions are simply a line item in a thousand-line project plan
  • ^Speaking of, thousand-line project plans make projects too black-and-white; if everything is just a check box, how easy is it to just go off into a dark room and check the box?  (answer: way too easy, and the results usually reflect the quality you’d expect by someone doing something just to check a box)

I’ll put it a different way…  You’ve probably heard it before: everything that can go wrong will go wrong.  I’m not trying to keep this post overly pessimistic, but it amazes me when I so often see managers encounter a road block and get paralyzed by their inability to react to the situation.  It’s almost as if they didn’t see it coming.

Maybe I’m jaded.  Maybe I have been on too many projects that weren’t set up for success from the start.  There’s one thing I have observed over time though – great managers aren’t great managers because they deliver in good times.  When the going’s good, everyone’s an all star.  Rather, they’re good managers because they manage the hell out of difficult times.  And, if you don’t expect that some things can (and will) go wrong, you are less likely to be able to course correct, employ contingency plans, or dig out of the ditch.

I don’t have anything empirically against the PMP types and traditional project management.  I just feel like they are touted a bit too much as being some form of end-all be-all.  It’s about time we revisited project management excellence and realized that we should probably develop a specialized construct for each situation (given the corporate landscape, project complexity, amount of time/energy available from resources) in order to prepare for project delivery success.  I have always hated trying to put a “one size fits all” approach on to any situation*.  It’s not fair to anyone involved and is blatantly ignorant to the uniqueness and intricacies that will always be present from project to project.  We are living in a digital/social age.  People will tell you immediately what they had for lunch on Facebook.  Why can’t we turn that active engagement into something useful to help with project delivery?  Maybe it’s better collaboration tools, maybe it’s gamification of project delivery – I don’t know.  But we need to make a change.

*On that note, I promise a “Case Against” post soon for stock methodologies, generic templates, and “reusable” processes.  I’m sure you can guess my opinion.

Til Next Time,

Michael

I am toying with the idea of running a new series (hopefully weekly) titled “The Case Against” and then picking a generally agreed-upon topic to pick apart to challenge conventional wisdom.  Mostly because I am pedantic by nature and like to overanalyze any situation put before me.  Also because I think it’s time for some fresh thoughts on many of the areas in business that we have long held to be a certain way “because that’s they way it’s always been”.  In my humble (and semi-professional) opinion, “because that’s the way it’s always been” is usually awful justification for just about anything in life and generally causes us to choose cop-out answers to complex problems in the interest of time or energy required to develop original thought/content.  To start this series, I have chosen to take a stab at industry best practices.

Since the beginning of time, it seems, firms have been pushing “industry best practices” as a means for companies to succeed.  And, on the surface, it makes perfect sense.  If you want to advance your team or organization, take a look at what the big names in the industry are doing.  If they’re pursuing people management or business intelligence as a means to drive productivity – you should do the same.  Right?  Well, not quite.

I have a problem with leaning on said “best practices” in the industry for a couple reasons in particular:
  • The judge of “best” is often someone who doesn’t really have a say or someone who has selfish reasons for determining “best”: the consultancy that helped company XYZ develop a particular process/technology will look to their own solution as the “best practice” so they can go implement that type of project elsewhere.
  • In other cases, the judges of “best” are merely analysts who are throwing darts at a dart board: typically, “researchers” at Gartner/Forrester are too far removed from industry to really understand why something may indeed offer massive benefit or ROI for a company.
  • Best practices have a shelf life: unfortunately, in modern day Corporate America, truly innovative and next generation solutions are yesterday’s news as soon as they are implemented.  Consider if you were an airline that was looking for a revolutionary way to offer in-flight entertainment – does it really make sense to pursue overhead TV screens when those have been deployed at competitor’s airlines for a few years?  Or would capital better be invested in determining what your users think is even better, such as TV’s in the headrests…
  • Best practices are usually only the best for a specific company in their own organizational context: if one company really needed a robust business intelligence reporting solution for their field workforce because they have such geographically diverse delivery models, would it really be smart for a small local or regional company to chase the same level of reporting if they are more standardized in their delivery model?  Of course not!
  • Most companies don’t need to be “best in class” at everything: one of the smartest operations guys I ever met said that, frankly, he didn’t know that his company needed to be the “Four Seasons”.  Perhaps they were currently operating at a “Best Western” level and just needed to get to “Holiday Inn Express”.  I thought it was a very sharp and intuitive way to look at it and firmly believe he is right.  While it sounds great to chase the leader in the clubhouse, a lot of times it’s smarter to employ investments that make the most sense for your company given your context (i.e. play your own game).

I swear I’m not just trying to be a professional services contrarian or fly in the face of conventional wisdom for publicity purposes (lord knows if I was truly anti-best practices, I’d really struggle to find a job at most major consultancies or companies in Corporate America for that matter).  I just think it’s about time we realized that a lot of these best practices are only best practices because they were better than the other options (which, in many cases, was doing nothing).  Comcast moved to 2-hour appointment windows because they had defined that as a something that would increase customer satisfaction.  And, in the absence of doing anything differently with appointment windows, the rest of the cable companies immediately looked to that as the “best practice” for scheduling/appointment windows.  Does that make it right?  You be the judge.

Til Next Time,

Michael

Something that has long frustrated me about the professional services industry in particular is the thought that recruiting can be done in a silo, separate from delivery teams.  Sure, it is nice to have headcount dedicated to this activity as it can be incredibly tedious and time-consuming, and really doesn’t fit into most typical delivery models as far as bringing in the front-line teams to assist with much of the burden of recruiting.

It is really frustrating, though, to talk to recruiters who have a bulleted list of skills that are tied to a given role, position, or opportunity.  It is not a knock against the recruiter.  I know that they will only have surface level information at best.  But since their KPI’s are generally tied to ensuring those positions are filled (or a given budget/target is met for positions), they are likely going to severely embellish the opportunity and oversell the opening to the point where it seems like you’d be a fool not to jump on board with it.  And that is a horrible waste of everyone’s time.

It is highly important to take everything that is said in the recruiting process with a bit of caution, and be sure to discuss roles and responsibilities for the position with people who are well-versed in the needs (i.e. the front-line delivery teams that are working on that project or similar ones).  I have seen too many people jump ship from a great place just to find out that what they were sold for another position or company was way off base from what the expectations they had were.  One of the people I trust most in the industry said it best when she said “After all these years, I can confirm the grass isn’t greener on the other side; it’s brown everywhere”.  Now, before you indict this person and claim it’s blasphemy that green grass does exist, consider the fact that what they have effectively said is that there are pros and cons to every situation.  If you leave one company for more money, sure you may get a great pay bump – but maybe you’ll be pigeon-holing yourself into a technology/project phase that you loathe (ever had a “Testing Manager” role that made you swear you never wanted to execute another test case in your life?).  Or, perhaps you take the job at the sleek and sexy new startup with the local delivery model where you don’t have to travel.  I’ve seen a lot of people who do this get really frustrated with their roles on projects becoming merely staff aug for large in-town clients where they feel as though they get stale or lose their focus on continued advancement of skills and knowledge.

Regardless, I think there are tons of opportunities to improve the recruiting process.  And I think it all starts with putting the focus on the delivery teams.  Nothing is more frustrating than talking to a recruiter who claims to have insight into “what it’s like” when you’re staffed on a “typical project”.  No offense, but they 1) aren’t delivering projects, and 2) there is no such thing as a “typical project”.  So please – in the absence of more robust recruiting – please be cautious about who you talk to when shopping for roles, projects, or companies.  Do your own homework and talk to the right people.  Only then will you start to get a good feel for whether you will enjoy yourself as you try to acclimate to the new spot.

Til Next Time,

Michael


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