Oct 10

Social Media – build Understanding

Uploaded on January 22, 2007 by gari.baldi

Uploaded on January 22, 2007 by gari.baldi

Understand: to perceive what is meant; to accept tolerantly or sympathetically

This is the sage advice about having two ears and only one mouth, listen to what is going on. Even if you already have a very strong market leading brand; before you wade in, listen and observe (lurk in the parlance). The social norm’s don’t always apply on line and some ‘normal’ behaviour is downright rude on line. Equally, what’s ‘normal’ on twitter isn’t the same as what’s normal on LinkedIn. Think of it like international trade and those HSBC ads about cultural differences.

Social media is great for lurking and the great thing about social media is that lurking is accepted, even encouraged. You can let the river of news from most social networks flow over you while you scope out the lie of the land.

Tools like Tweetdeck mean you can keep an eye on half a dozen topic groups (by using search & group functions), most sites allow you to ‘follow’ a discussion so you get all the updates without having to spend all week hitting reload.

Set up a few Google alerts, feed them into your RSS reader. Find the social media networks relevant to your business, there is one out there and Google probably knows where it is. See what’s popular, language used, topics of discussion, OT discussions (Off-Topic, not directly related to the forum/discussion/network but of interest to the group).

Take the time to figure this out, don’t just hire a 13 year old. Like any key aspect of your business, you should understand the basics so that you can plan and act accordingly. If nothing else, you need to know when you’re being spun B.S. by your 13 year old ‘social media guru’. 🙂

You don’t need to be developing any great theory of everything, you certainly shouldn’t aim to know everything about everything. That way lies analysis paralysis, but you can build up a picture of the industry, your client, their challenges and how you can help them address those challenges.

Most social media sites have great facilities for chat, discussion forums and similar where you can ask questions and monitor replies. However, remember the opening advice above and be aware than discussions can be very robust & opinionated. Whatever you do, I would advise against getting drawn into a flame war. As recent evidence as shown, no one is really anonymous on the internet (if they ever were).

Generally I don’t say a lot at networking events, at least until I’ve stopped ‘working’ and had a couple glasses of wine. I’ll usually ask questions like ‘what are you currently excited about…’ or ‘what cool stuff are you working on’. By taking the time to understand a business in the assisted living technologies markets (primarily for the hearing impaired) I was able to identify that the key challenge was more about growth & succession planning than product development & sales. I was able to demonstrate this by asking more about their business structure & strategy than about their technologies. Having establishing my understanding and credibility I was able to recommend that two projects were developed what were around £100k each.

Having worked on understanding your customer’s needs through social media, you can begin to demonstrate that understanding and establish your position as someone who can be trusted and respected.

Dec 11

To finish first, first you have to finish

Uploaded on November 26, 2006 by Manzabar

Uploaded on November 26, 2006 by Manzabar

With the econoclapse in full effect, most companies are cutting back, trimming the fat, stopping non-essential spend. Which is good, but what if the budget you’re about to slash is the one that’s keeping you alive?

The trouble with businesses is that once they get bigger than a couple guys with laptops in a Starbucks (and sometimes even before then) they get complex. When you have to do lots of things more than once, you tend to set a routine, because this helps save time and money and ensures consistancy.

The trouble with people is that (with a couple of exceptions, I’m not one) they can only cope with 7±2 ideas at a time. Which means lots of fudging and scribbled notes to remember for next time. Unfortunately, decisions get forgotten and when times change, who knows which of those routines are the ones that are critical and which were the nice-to-haves because someone at a masterclass suggested all well run businesses applied a 15 point check list to Quality Assurance…

Setting up automatic routines/reports/etc on Remember the Milk, or Basecamp doesn’t get away from the problem, it just automates it.

Uploaded on November 5, 2006 by vivisquare

Uploaded on November 5, 2006 by vivisquare

What you need is a picture of how your business works. The series of inter-linked activities that between them represent your unique business. Something that’ll allow you to hack’n’slash at your business in theory and diagrammatically before actually making a change that’ll piss of your best customer.

What you need is a business process model.

What you don’t need is a legion of McKinsey consultants. At the most profound level, process models are diagrammatic representations of the systems that make your business function. Boxes and arrows. Easy.

There are two simple things to remember with process maps (OK, there are a couple more but to get started in a blog post…); 1) the ICOM is your friend; 2) decompose where sensible.

Integration Definition for Function Modeling (IDEF0) Box Format

Integration Definition for Function Modeling (IDEF0) Box Format

There are lots of methods for developing business process models, I quite like IDEF0 (its what I used in my research work, it’s simple and robust, which is handy when developing models ‘on the fly’; there aren’t to many things to remember – back to the 7±2). The basic unit of the IDEF0 method is the ICOM; which stands for Inputs, Controls, Outputs & Mechanisms.

This basic unit forms the basis for modeling the business. As always there are two general approaches to generating a model, top-down or bottom-up. Bottom-up generally involves stapling yourself to an order and recording every activity that happens between the customer placing the order and the end of the cycle (either payment or receipt of goods). In larger companies this is how you find out how things actually work, rather than how the ISO9000:2000 manual says they work.

Top-down is often easier to explain how the method works. At the top level, there a 3 things that all businesses do, Manage, Operate and Support the business. You can decompose the Operate Process into Get Order, Fulfill Order, Develop New Product, and Support Product. Then start with Get Order, what does this involve? What controls how you get orders, what outputs are generated to enable you to fulfil those orders, what mechanisms do you use to make all this happen, what triggers the process in the first place?

Keep breaking these actions down until you get to the smallest unit of actionable work. When you get to ‘pour water into teacup’ you’ve gone too far! 🙂

The idea is to be able to remove, combine, move, change an activity and be confident that there are no unexpected impacts that aren’t captured by the diagram.

Uploaded on July 22, 2006 by jodigreen

Uploaded on July 22, 2006 by jodigreen

It doesn’t have to be a long draw-out process, you can sketch quickly with pen and paper and have a reasonably good set of diagrams after a couple hours. You also don’t need to model every..single…process in the business, just the ones you’re looking at.

Providing every box has an output, control and mechanism and that if you’ve decomposed a box the arrows that touch that box are represented in the child diagram; then you’re good to go.

Now if you cut an activity you’ll be able to see the wider impact. You can see which activities to combine and which are obsolete.

You can have a look at other businesses and see how they handle those processes, and copy them (best practice and all that). Rather than just cut’n’paste’n’hope you can figure out how processes fit together.

Plug the savings into your cash flow forecast, see what effect it has, rinse, repeat until you’ve looked at everything.

Whilst you’re plugging through the accounts, check every line against the business model; where does it fit in, which process does it relate to, does it add value or costs?

Feb 07

Regional Strategy & Monty Python

Today was mostly spent in Exeter, at their new rugby stadium and conference venue (Sandy Park) at a consultation day for SWRDA’s new Corporate Plan. Ironically, given one of the Regional priorities is to be Carbon Neutral in new projects by 2011 and lots of folk had been persuaded to take the train, the trains were cancelled with the ensuing delays, confusion and chaos. Those of us that travelled by iron horse had no such problems.

The big drive, amongst other things, is to move from employment-led growth to productivity-led growth. Which is a good and noble thing, but rather misses the opportunity to go straight for competitive advantage-led growth. Given most of the attendants were from the public sector, it’ll be interesting how they perceive productivity.

In fact it was the part of the agenda ‘The Most Important things the RDA can do’ that triggered my Monty Python alarm when someone (almost verbatim to Life of Brian just after Brian gets captured) called for the corporate plan to have a plan to actually do something, lets stop planning and actually do, whole new motion, generally seconded, etc.

It took Sean Fielding from Exeter University, after a quick and shameless plug for his institution, to make reference to competitive advantage.

After coffee and networking, 10 flipcharts were set up with statement / questions posted that roughly related to parts of the Corporate Plan. Each table began at its corresponding flip chart number, discussed the topic for 4 mins, then moved to the next flip chart, repeat, rinse, etc. One hour later everyone had contributed thoughts on all the topics and was desperate for lunch. Apart from a bit of chaos setting up, things went smoothing and there were some interesting points raised (lots on spatial planning, housing, and a bit of a gripe about SWRDA). As Jane Henderson (CEO, SWRDA) pointed out in the wrap up, some of the requests were for things that SWRDA was doing but hadn’t told everyone about, and some of the points weren’t SWRDA’s responsibility or mandate to address.

Whether anything changes in the final Corporate Plan, we’ll see.

It was a very different crowd to the one I normally circulate in so that was interesting. A couple of connections were made, a couple were missed, too early to say the longer term outcome.