Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Profits of doom are staring at their dashboards

Over the past few weeks we have been confronted with so many negative images and stories about the financial crisis that it is making me wonder if some of us are spending too much time staring at our dashboard indicators, rather than at the horizon ahead of us?

The secret of successful entrepreneurship is anticipation and adaptability. Anticipation involves keeping your chin up and keeping your eyes wide open, scanning for the best way forward, seizing (if not inventing) opportunities as you see them. Staring at your feet, to where you are right now, will not help you.

We have spent so long looking at our reliable indicators that I think we all have a pretty good indication as to exactly how deep and wide the crisis is and how much bigger it is likely to become? Now is the time to build bridges, to find new ways of avoiding further disaster by looking for creative strategies to forge a new way ahead.

The tools we used to create this crisis are not the same ones that we will need to circumnavigate it or even to kick start the flow of cash again. I can understand that politicians and business leaders do not want to create false hope or be disrespectful for those hardest hit by the current crisis. But we simply must remember that financial crises have come before. Perhaps not as bad, but we know that the first communities to recover are those that accept their reality and adapt to it the soonest. Now is the time to sit with younger minds and to take on board the fact that not only is the world economy fundamentally changing, but so are our business processes.

We are living in a world where many of the most successful and cash rich companies are giving their products away for free! The old rules do not necessarily apply anymore. Sure we have ‘traditional’ businesses that produce essential products for the world to consume, but the leaders of these industries must also look for creative ways to act more locally by using the power of their global information communication systems and trading methods to discover new efficiencies and opportunities. Cost saving on current overheads alone will not inspire the creation of a new frontier.

On Thursday I looked at my Huygens barometer only to notice that the alcohol was reading off the scale (see the image above). Being my normal arrogant self I assumed that this was down to some kind of fault in the apparatus. But then logic kicked in: Huygens barometers can not ‘go wrong’, they have been working accurately for the last two hundred years or more – so what do I conclude? That I am witnessing an extraordinary event, the likes of which almost never happen, I conclude that I am still alive, my house is still standing and my cat is still asleep on the radiator, oblivious to the panic in my head. The reason I do not feel the storm is because I am in the very heart of it, in the centre of the low depression, where the wind is still. On the edge everything is in chaos – the devastation is merciless. Where I am the sun is still shining and everything is calm – now is a good time to think and make plans, knowing that things will change and that I will need to change with them.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The ethics of loyalty

Being loyal to those who pay your fees is not always ethical and for project managers there are times when conflict of interest situations can become quite tricky.
I was talking with two of my MBA students last night and one of them posed me a question about an ethical dilemma he was facing. He asked a simple question:
‘When there are conflicts on a project where should your loyalty lie?’
‘That’s simple’, I replied, ‘your ultimate loyalty is to your customer's shareholders. As a professional you should be looking to supply the best possible solution for your customer, your decisions and influence should be directed accordingly. ’ But then came his second question:
‘But who is my customer? I work for a consulting company that supplies services to the end customer, for whom I am managing the project. Should I be loyal to the shareholders of my employer (the subcontractor) or to the shareholders of their customer?’
The situation (simplified) was that the sub-contractor (his employer) was asking him to play a more active role in ‘bigging up’ the client’s problem; increasing the risk evaluations to create a sense of criticality and to supply a technical solution that would require more services and hardware than might otherwise be needed.
For me, it is still a simple issue: As PM for the end customer, his professional code of ethics should motivate him to advise the end customer as he sees fit and he should not be influenced by the bias of his ‘immediate’ bosses. But I know that this is easier said than done, especially for employees of subcontractors.
I am curious to hear other people’s opinions and stories.
At The Bayard Partnership, we like to pride ourselves on the fact that aim solely to deliver the solution our client's actually need. The solution that ultimately delivers the best share value. Partly because of this, we prefer to supply our services directly whenever we can, or at least via other suppliers that share our fundamental philosophy and principles.
In times of recession the temptation to motivate consultants and PM’s to extract as many man-hours from the customer as possible, may become too big to ignore for some contracting companies, especially those solely focused on short-term profitability. I like to think this is not the case but experience tells me otherwise. Many are afraid of losing revenue and falsely feel that by dragging events out, somehow they will get through. nothing can be further from the truth. In times of recession we need to deliver value for money. Neat solutions to complex issues. Quality, honesty and succinctness will seperate the the long term players from the charlatans.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Torturous Meetings

I am lead to believe that a group of musicians have started an action group to try to prevent the use of their music for torture purposes. When I first heard this I thought that it was a joke, but now I have heard about it from several sources. I tried to imagine it, being tied to chair, forced to listen to Barry Manilow’s Copacabana a thousand times over. So I tried it at home and collapsed half way through the second playing!

The experts claim that being forced to listen to even your favorite music can produced a similar effect. Apparently torturers the world over are, at this very minute, experimenting to find the ultimate musical torture tools. Apparently Witney Houston’s “I will always love you” is high on the list – but I think I can suggest some better ones (should I want to contribute to the perfection of torture).

As a Quaker, I find all kinds of torture absolutely repugnant and I do not want to belittle the problem because apparently this is not a joke and it appears to be very effective. However, sometimes I find attending meetings as a kind of torture. The kind of meetings that have no agenda and apparently no purpose. The kind of meetings where you are invited to attend for your expertise but where you quickly realize that your expertise is the one thing that is not going to help.

I know of a company where people are free to attend meetings as they wish, so if they have nothing to do they can look at the list of meetings for that day and simply ‘drop in’.

Meetings are important and sometimes a very light structure (or apparently no structure at all) can be beneficial – but the important point is: are they effective? Did the brainstorming session produce valuable gems or tedious trivia?

I looked up the definition of the word torture: (apart from the definition to inflict pain to extract information) I discovered: (Collins) 2. ‘To cause mental anguish. Noun.

So there we have it – meetings can be a form of torture!