Giving away the trade secrets – 7 things you need to know as an interim

Being an interim isn't just like having a permanent job for a short while - there's a whole set of skills and behaviours to learn and adopt

If you are thinking about becoming an interim manager then you need to attack it like owning a business. After all that's exactly what you will be doing.

Sure you won't have stock on the shelves or a load of employees working in a factory. In fact most of the time it will just be you on your lonesome doing what you do. But it's a business nonetheless and you'll need to get up to speed with real world skills sooner rather than later.

I've been an interim manager for almost two decades now and I've learnt a few things along the way.

In the early days it was by trial and error and stealing a few tricks from the other interims I met. It was hard going but it worked and now I'm passing on some more of the trade secrets so that future interim managers can get a head start.

Now this isn't a complete list and it's not in any particular order (although it's roughly in chronological order) but it will give you a good start on your journey. 

  1. understand yourself - before you even think about taking an interim role you need to be brutally honest about your own personality. If you hate uncertainty, hate change and get worried by financial instability then you are going to struggle. Most of the time I have been unemployed on Monday and working the week after and at the end of the contract I've not been certain I'm going to finish until I'm walking out of the door*. If you think you won't be able to handle that kind of uncertainty then don't even try the interim lifestyle.
  2. learn the company quick - as an interim you are there to do a job so you don't get the luxury of spending the next three months finding out about the business. In fact in one company I worked for there was an accountant who'd been there 5 years and hadn't bothered to speak to any of the operations people.** You need to get in,understand what the company does, how it does it and what makes it tick. It doesn't really matter what you are doing whether it be statutory accounts, management accounting or a systems project, that deep understanding of what is important will make your work so much easier and of infinitely better quality.
  3. lose the attitude - nobody cares that you were like a god at the last place you worked. Nobody cares that you were at one of the big practices and nobody cares that you knew Oracle backwards in your last role. All they care about is that you can do the job and do it well. This can be great if you were a dick at the last place you worked because you can reinvent yourself but it can be a bit of a pain if you are a lovely lovely person (like me***) because you have to prove yourself all over again. I love that. See point 1.
  4. learn to ask smart stupid questions - Part of this comes from point 1 and 3. You have to not worry about asking basic questions and you have to learn the company quickly. So you need to ask what look like stupid questions that are actually pin point accurate in terms of what the company does, how it does it and what is important. Similarly you need to be able to ask why people do what they do in a non-threatening way. Check out six sigma and the way it reduces waste for an example. I guarantee that most finance teams produce at least one report that takes ages, has a deadline and that nobody reads.
  5. find the guru - there's always one. The guru may well not be in a high position in the company (in fact they probably won't be) but they will know everything because they've been there years. More importantly they will be able to give you accurate answers to your smart stupid questions without bias. Buy this person coffee and cake regularly because they will save you time and headaches.
  6. track your progress and publicise your results - really really important for people who are working on a change project. So can you remember the last time you had toothache? It really hurt a lot didn't it? But now you think it wasn't so bad. Humans are great at re-writing the past. So your commissioning manager will have a massive pain point that is causing them sleepless nights and the moment you fix it they will begin to forget how bad the pain actually was. Make sure you write up an 'as is' report at the start of the project and then report on all of your successes as you go along . Do it cumulatively so that by the end of the gig your manager has a clear sight of just how bad it was and what a difference you have made. Marketing is everything.
  7. manage upwards - we've probably all been in a job where we have a demanding manager who doesn't understand how difficult or risky a job is. Or we have a boss who won't sign stuff off, misses meetings, doesn't communicate etc. Well I'm afraid that as an interim part of your job is to make sure things get done and not have a cry in the toilets if your guvner hasn't authorised everyone's timesheets. Learning to manage upwards is one of the key skill you need to get in place. It's so important that I may even write another blog piece on it!

If you are an interim or if you are thinking of becoming one then I hope this has been of some help.

If you are an experienced interim and have other points you think are useful then please do comment. Be aware that I may steal you ideas though!

 

*I was once given a card by my team on the day I was due to leave and then immediately approached by an FD of another company in the group who asked if he could have a quick word. It led to another three months at the same company working for a different boss.

** This goes to point 1. You need to be a pretty outgoing person as an interim and not lock yourself away in an office and not speak to people.

*** and modest too!

Getting what you pay for

The price might look attractive – but there’s a reason

Buying content should be pretty simple, you've got an article you want about fitting cycle brakes so you find someone online, agree a fee and job done.

Or is it?

The problem is that a lot of companies selling content online aren't really bothered about quality, they are much keener on getting through a huge volume of work.

Often, to get the price down they will farm out the work to overseas 'boilerhouses' where people who's first language isn't necessarily English will ping out articles culled from dubious web sources.

Even so it's cheap so that's OK isn't it?

Well not really.

The problem is that you'll need to factor in the cost of spell checking the document and adjusting the grammar.

Then you'll need to fact check it.

Then you'll probably need to make sure it includes the keywords you asked them to include in the first place

Then you'll probably want to insert some life into what was written as a bland and inoffensive article to make sure you that you couldn't get annoyed with it

Then you may be thinking to yourself that actually it would be better to have written the article yourself!

We write engaging, original content especially designed to prove interesting to your customers and drive traffic to your site. If you'd like to speak with us regarding our services then give us a ring!

Isango8 - providing project management and accounting support for SMEs in the South and South West

There’s no such thing as a free lunch – 6 ways that free cloud apps aren’t free

We’ve all heard the expression that ‘there’s no such thing as a free lunch’ but it’s true that a significant amount of people think that the cool app that they have just started using in the cloud is somehow magically paid for by the fairies! This post is designed to help you spot some of the ways that cloud software companies will use to part you from your money.

The cloud has brought a huge amount of really useful tools within reach of even the smallest companies. I confess to having love for Mailchimp, TeamworksPm and GoogleDocs. I’m getting into a load of others too and I’m using them all on their free plans – but  ‘FREE’ doesn’t always mean free.

So how do companies charge for their services? Here are some of the business models;

1 – Subscriptions – This is possibly the most up front method that a company will use. You pay a set amount from day 1 of using the product. That’s it. Nice and easy to understand but often companies won’t give you a free period to see if you like it. Consequently if you sign up, enter all your data, train your staff then find out you don’t like it then you’re stuck. Bigger developers will use this and probably ally it with sales people.

2 – Advertising – This is the easiest to spot and is the method used by companies like Facebook. Seen all those annoying ads next to your profile? Well they are paying for your software. Marketers pay to advertise next to people who share similar interests and values to the product or service they are trying to sell. This is sometimes combined with the subscription model so it’s free with ads or if you pay a subscription the ads disappear.

3 – Reduced functionality – Want our app for free? Yes of course but if you want to do all of the cool stuff that it is capable of then you’ll have to pay. Apps like Prezi and Batchbook and TeamworkPM will give you the ‘lite’ version to get you using their product but when you want to do something a little more advanced then you’ll have to buy a subscription. This is a great way to get into an app but beware – some may not let you export your data if you decide to move away later.

4 – Restricted activity – This is the easiest to disguise. The app works absolutely fine in all respects but only up to a certain level of activity.  Want more users? Want to upload more times in a month? Want to send out more invoices? Then you’ll have to pay. Apps like Box and Dropbox use this model.

5 – Time limited – Everything but for a trial period only. The trial period is designed to let you have a look, play, get some stuff going and form a habit. Once it gets switched off then you can’t access your stuff and you miss it. Videoscribe use this but to be honest 7 days trial is too short in my opinion.

6 –  Composite methods – Some or all of the above. You’ll find that the more you pay the more users you can add, the more functionality is available and the more like a custom made application it becomes.

The cloud has led to a massive increase in the amount of apps available. The quality is variable to be honest but the one common theme is that they haven’t all been designed out of the goodness of people’s hearts!* If you are unsure then carry out a Google search, do lots of research and work out how you’ll use the service or alternatively see the advertisement below.

Let’s be fair, some of these companies have spent millions bringing to market a superb application that will make your life a lot better so they deserve to be paid for their effort and they are honest and upfront about the whole thing. (look for a page on their site called ‘Pricing’ or ‘Plans’). Some though aren’t totally transparent and users only find out what they have to pay for when it’s too late.

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This is what I do for companies. If you are thinking about buying software then call me first. I give an independent and impartial view as to whether it’s a good move for you or not and it’s a lot cheaper than making the wrong decision.

 

*  Yes Linux,open office etc. HAVE been designed out of the goodness of people’s hearts but in general the majority of the stuff you come across in internetland will be trying to work out how to get into your wallet.

Isango8 - providing project management and accounting support for SMEs in the South and South West

Making a sandwich – the project management way

This is a little something I did in some spare time and if you’re a project manager who’s a parent then you’ll definitely recognise the behaviour!

1 client (child) says they would like a sandwich

2 project manager(mum) goes back to client and asks what type of sandwich. client says ‘something nice’

3 Project Manager(PM) suggests peanut butter. Client informs PM that they hate peanut butter

4 PM Asks client what they would like instead then. Client says ‘ something nice but not peanut butter’

5 PM decides to check the cupboard and see what’s available

6 Client says ‘where’s my sandwich?’. PM informs client that they haven’t decided what they want yet

7 Client says ‘oh yeah’ and still doesn’t decide

8 PM calls project meeting with client to feedback the options

9 Client doesn’t like any of them and questions why they are paying their PM a fortune to under achieve

10 Client informs PM that they have just met someone at a networking group (school) who really likes baked bean and banana sandwiches

11 PM informs client that they won’t like baked bean and banana sandwiches because they are squidgy and the client hates bananas

12 Client informs PM that they are the client and they’ll have what they want. As an aside they mention that their networking(school) friend has a PM (mum) who always gives them what they want

13 PM asks client if they want their bread buttered, client promises to get back to PM

14 PM gathers together bread, bananas, two knives(in case one is ineffective), a tin of baked beans, a tin opener, a plate and an assistant PM (little brother)

15 PM asks client if they want their bread buttered, client promises to get back to them. PM Points out that this is a critical path item and work will stop until a decision is reached. Client turns volume up on TV so that they can’t hear what the PM is saying

16 PM tasks APM with skinning a banana. PM selects 2 slices of bread and puts them on the plate. APM begins to pick nose whilst staring out of the window.

17 PM carries out a load test of the knives to make sure they work and starts making a training plan for sandwich eating, puts washing into machine and loads dishwasher.

18 Client calls into the kitchen and asks where the sandwich is. PM informs client that they still haven’t made a decision over the critical path item (bread buttering)

19 Client asks what resource the PM was thinking of using to carry out the operation. PM informs client that APM is pencilled in to do it

20 Client goes ‘humph’ and walks away without making a decision

21 PM explains to APM that nose picking is not optimal for this project and sends them to wash hands

22 Client suggests crisis meeting in which they explain that they are very disappointed not to see the project progress any further. PM explains that the team are eager to progress but are waiting on the mission critical decision on bread buttering. Client says that he can’t understand why the PM hasn’t made such a simple decision themselves. After all their friends PM(mum) would have already done this by now. Explains that they are considering changing PMs as a result. Client decides to take more control of the project and fires APM who is singing in the bathroom. Client decides to butter half of the bread and tells PM that ‘it wasn’t so hard after all, was it?’. Goes to watch power rangers.

23 PM butters remaining bread, skins and mashes banana, puts banana into bread opens beans puts beans onto bread puts top on sandwich cuts into four squares and delivers to client. APM stops singing in bathroom and asks why they have been fired.

24 Client informs PM that they didn’t want it cut into squares as they are no longer a child. PM points to project scope document and says that this was not specified and does not affect the operation of the deliverables. Client makes dissatisfaction with PMs performance known.

25 PM begins training plan by telling client to ‘eat your sandwich and shut up’

26 Client informs PM that they hate bananas and asks why the PM thought it appropriate to provide a squidgy sandwich when they hate squidgy sandwiches. PM explains to client that this was noted on the project risks document right at the start and they would have appreciated some feedback before beginning work.

27 Client informs PM in a full and frank exchange of views that they are in fact the worst PM in the entire world. Further, they are stupid and smell too. They wonder why they didn’t use their networking (school) friends PM who always makes great sandwiches.

28 PM removes the application (sandwich) and places it in a secure offline storage facility(bin). Client decides that a cooling off period(sulk) is appropriate

29 Client contacts PM and explains about a great idea they have for a further project for a tuna and honey sandwich and suggests forcefully that, as the PM performed so poorly in the last project that they complete this new improved project ahead of their other projects (little brother’s sandwich) only ‘much better this time’ as recompense.

30 PM explains to client that they have a large amount of projects (washing, cleaning, ironing) to carry out before they feed ungrateful children. Suggests developing an in house capacity (‘do it yourself’) or failing that utilising the services of their networking (school) friend’s PM.