Isango8 Blog

Information presentation – how to use groupings

Groupings and space

In this video we show how the way you group your data and your use of space affect how easy it is to read

By using these methods you can ensure that your information is much easier and quicker to read. Removing the need for fancy fonts, lines and graphics through the simple use of space.
Isango8 - providing project management and accounting support for SMEs in the South and South West

10 things to do before you even choose your software

If you want a successful project then there’s a series of things you need to do before you even get to choose a piece of software

You also need to make sure you do all the steps – missing one out is just like making a cake without one of the ingredients

  1. Analyse the problem – what specific issues are you trying to solve?
  2. Analyse your company strategy – there’s no point in spending a huge amount of money on a shiny ERP system if you intend to sell your company to a trade competitor. They will probably have their own system in place.
  3. Decide whether a new system would work well in light of 1 & 2 – If the problem you are trying to solve is that you can’t recruit the best staff then putting in new software won’t help. It’s an extreme example but it makes the point.
  4. Scope your project – it may seem an early point but decide what you want to achieve and of course what you don’t. If It’s not important to have your people connecting using tablets then don’t bother looking for a system that will do this
  5. Form your steering committee – get the right people in and explain how important this is
  6. Decide what’s vital and what’s nice to have – get your steering committee to decide what are the absolute must haves for any system you consider. If it doesn’t have it then it doesn’t get looked at
  7. Send out your RFQs – Request for Quote (or RFI – Request For Information) cast your net wide and ask the vendors if they can meet your minimum requirements
  8. cull your list – be ruthless, in a couple of months time you’ll be sick of the sight of software
  9. Do your beauty parade – get your short list to present their software to your team and show how they would meet your requirements
  10. Do vendor background research – get independent verification of claims, find out how previous projects went and check that they are financially sound.

The advertisement

I specialise in helping companies through the choice process. There are lots of methods and techniques that I use to ensure that the company gets the best possible fit for it’s purchase. Give me a call and let’s talk

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

War stories

 

It’s an interesting thought

All project people have war stories. We can tell you about all the bad things that have happened on projects and the reasons why.

We are fitted with perfect 20/20 hindsight. This is handy because we can use the hindsight to predict what might go wrong on projects in the future.

One of my favourite PM sayings is that firms who can’t find the money to do it right the first time always find the money to do it twice.

Another is that you shouldn’t spoil the ship for a h’aporth of tar.

So my advice for anyone thinking of kicking off a project – hire a professional right at the start. Yes it will cost you money but it will probably stop you making a big, expensive mistake. Don’t spend a million pounds* on a piece of software and £25 on project management!

 

 

*Don’t worry – most software implementations don’t cost a million! This was just an example

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

The value of realism

This post is inspired by an article I found on ERP focus by Shane Starr.

Shane explains why ERP will never be the cure for all ills it is often painted to be and this is an important point. Too many companies go into a very expensive and long term project thinking that it will sort out issues they are having all over the organisation – from getting the accounts out on time to painting the garage roof.

The fact of the matter is that any implementation is only as good as the scoping process. If you choose the wrong system then it’ll never be the right system, whatever you do.

Similarly an ERP system won’t fix broken processes or poor organisational behaviour and if you have an inefficient process under your old software then a new system won’t be any better if you just transfer the old way of doing things.

A good analogy is a company having problems with their call centre not answering phone calls quick enough. Putting in a new phone system won’t stop Johnny from nipping out the back for a cigarette or someone answering the call in a surly manner because they had a bad nights sleep.

Of course this is not the image that the phone system company will portray. They’ll explain how quick the system is and how much information can be gleaned from it. It’s the company executives that conflate the problem (slow response times) with the solution (a really quick phone system) without examining the root cause.

Exactly the same thing happens in ERP projects. Hundreds of thousands of pounds are spent on software that will never cure the problems that execs are seeing but will just mean that you can see them a bit better!

What can you do about it?

For a start have a good long look at the problems you are having and decide whether they are truly down to the system, organisation behaviour or your processes.

If you do identify problems with the system then look a bit deeper – are they inherent in the product you have or can you tweek the software to do what you want.

If all else fails and you do decide to take the plunge and buy new then make sure you get someone independent on your side to help you through the choice process. Please don’t take all of your information about what a system will do for you from the vendors. After all they are salesmen and although not all salesmen are sharks it has to be said that they still have a vested interest in making sure you buy their product over those offered by the competition.

Two cows

I came across this on facebook so I claim no ownership of this at all but I did do the very last one….

SOCIALISM
You have 2 cows.
You give one to your neighbour.

COMMUNISM
You have 2 cows
The State takes both and gives you some milk.

FASCISM
You have 2 cows.
The State takes both and sells you some milk.

BUREAUCRATISM
You have 2 cows.
The State takes both, shoots one, milks the other and then throws the milk away.

TRADITIONAL CAPITALISM
You have two cows.
You sell one and buy a bull.
Your herd multiplies, and the economy grows.
You sell them and retire on the income.

VENTURE CAPITALISM
You have two cows.
You sell three of them to your publicly listed company, using letters of credit opened by your brother-in-law at the bank, and then execute a debt/equity swap with an associated general offer so that you get all four cows back, with a tax exemption for five cows.
The milk rights of the six cows are transferred via an intermediary to a Cayman Island company secretly owned by the majority shareholder, who sells the rights to all seven cows back to your listed company.
The annual report says the company owns eight cows, with an option on one more.

AN AMERICAN CORPORATION
You have two cows.
You sell one, and force the other to produce the milk of four cows.
Later, you hire a consultant to analyse why the cow has died.

A FRENCH CORPORATION
You have two cows.
You go on strike, organize a riot, and block the roads, because you want three cows.

AN ITALIAN CORPORATION
You have two cows, but you do not know where they are.
You decide to have lunch.

A SWISS CORPORATION
You have 5,000 cows. None of them belong to you.
You charge the owners for storing them.

A CHINESE CORPORATION
You have two cows.
You have 300 people milking them.
You claim that you have full employment and high bovine productivity.

You arrest the newsman who reported the real situation.

AN INDIAN CORPORATION
You have two cows.
You worship them.

A BRITISH CORPORATION
You have two cows.
Both are mad.

AN IRAQI CORPORATION
Everyone thinks you have lots of cows.
You tell them that you have none.
Nobody believes you, so they bomb the crap out of you and invade your country.
You still have no cows but at least you are now a Democracy.

AN AUSTRALIAN CORPORATION
You have two cows.
Business seems pretty good.
You close the office and go for a few beers to celebrate.

A NEW ZEALAND CORPORATION
You have two cows.
The one on the left looks very attractive.

A GREEK CORPORATION
You have two cows borrowed from French and German banks.
You eat both of them.
The banks call to collect their milk, but you cannot deliver so you call the IMF.
The IMF loans you two cows.
You eat both of them.
The banks and the IMF call to collect their cows/milk.
You are out getting a haircut.

AN IRISH CORPORATION
You have two cows
One of them is a horse

 

and here’s mine;

 

PROJECT MANAGEMENT

Your client asks you to get them two motorbikes

You deliver three motorbikes and they ask why they aren’t cows

6 Rules of effective software implementation

If you want to get your software implementation right, on time and on budget then there are six clear rules to follow.

Decide what you want before you start – it’s very tempting to just lurch in and then call whatever you end up with the system but to be honest it’s the project management equivalent of sticking a pin in a map and calling it your destination.
Don’t rush it – take your time. Good things always come to those that wait. We’re not really advocating waiting around, but take your time over scoping out what you want and making sure that you get the configuration right.
Get the team right – none of us like dealing with sulky teenagers right? Nothing upsets people like being forced to do something they don’t want to do or being excluded from a great trip to the beach, just because they are in the wrong department.
Work out the money then add a bit – this installation is going to cost you more than your software vendor is telling you. They’re not being dishonest just optimistic. Add on a bit extra to the budget then if it’s still left at the end we can have a party.
Make sure you allow your team enough time to get properly involved – Don’t expect people to just shoehorn it into their day. You’re a busy company right? Get in a temp or two if you have to and let people have some time to get the software right.
Get some independent advice – not your mum, or the chap down the pub or the person who is trying to sell you their latest super duper system. Find someone who has implemented more than one system for more than one type of company.

Rule 1 Deciding what you want
This may seem obvious but it’s actually one of the biggest causes of so called ‘failure’. In fact what happens is a company decides to implement part of a package and then along the way finds all sorts of super wonderful things that they’d like to have (prompted of course by the implementation consultants). The budget comes under stress, the timescale increases and people get demotivated.
Be clear at the outset what your definition of success is. IF other things turn up then put them into Phase 2 and plan that separately. Scope the project correctly, make sure you have a plan with timings, costs and people. Make sure you share the definitions of success right at the start with the stakeholders just so that everyone understands what is going on.

Rule 2 Don’t rush it – take your time
Throwing in a system might seem like a really good idea. This is what happens in entrepreneurial big picture type companies. The executives think they are being clever and decisive. Ask Michael Dell how clever and decisive their implementation was. It cost millions and was eventually consigned to the bin.
Take long enough to scope your project, choose your system and make your plan. Every £1 spent planning saves £3 in wasted effort

Rule 3 get your team right
You’d be amazed at how many software projects go ahead with people that can’t be found jobs elsewhere in the organisation or people who have a ‘bit of an idea about IT’. Don’t appoint people because they play golf with the boss, appoint them because they are good at projects.
Make sure you have a full spread of people from the departments that will be affected by the software, that way you’ll not only retain buy in from the very people who will have to use your system, but also have people on your team that may be able to spot potential practical issues before they become a problem. In fact I’d go further and say that if you appoint all executives to your team THEY WILL MISS SOMETHING. Appoint at as low a level as you can and you’ll grab a lot more of the jobs that actually make your organisation run.

Rule 4 – work out the money then add a bit
Trust me this will cost more than you think. IT always does. We always underestimate the number of users, the number of licences, how long implementation will take. FACT. Make sure your project plan has fat, not only in terms of money but also time because that tricky data cleanse will take an awful lot longer than you think.

Rule 5 Make sure you allow your team enough time to get involved
A surprising number of projects are started with the view that Doris from accounts will be able to do her normal day job alongside her duties to the project. Well she won’t. Plan backfill by getting in temps or get a project specialist to work on the team instead but make sure you have enough resource

Rule 6 get some independent advice
Would you buy a used car without getting it checked over first. How much weight do you put on the salesmans words when he says it’s a nice little runner? So why do people commit to very expensive software based purely on the world of what after all is a salesman?

Find someone with experience in choosing (choosing, not implementing, running or selling) software. They’ll make sure it’s the right fit for your company and guide you through the beauty parade. They’ll point you in the right direction for planning the project, deciding on who will do the job and how to go forward. They may even Project Manage it for you. Getting it right at this point will save you a lot of time and money.

The two thirds slump

Every project I have ever worked on big, small, simple or complex has had one of these

Amazingly, the project management books don’t mention it, most websites ignore it and I’ve never seen it on any project management course syllabus but for all that it’s a real phenomenon that can be upsetting and destructive.

So what is the slump?

It’s a general listlessness, frustration, depression or general sense of negativity that settles on a project. It results in arguments, lacklustre performance and extended deadlines. It’s destructive and annoying and at its worst it threatens the very viability of your project.

People tend to get angry and there will be spats and full blown arguments. If you’re really unlucky a fist fight will ensue but that’s a rarity thank goodness!

But overall the project will tend to suffer because people who are happy work better. People who are unhappy don’t.

What causes it?

When you start off a project everything is new. People are all enthused and every day is a discovery. Sure there are challenges but there’s loads of low hanging fruit to grab.

The problem of course is that team members get addicted to achieving. They expect everything to be easy and when something isn’t then it gets put on a back burner until later. Unfortunately later turns up, usually at about the two thirds mark. The team isn’t having as many successes as it once had and every task is a slog. It gets old really quickly.

The project sponsor is probably a high achiever. They are in demand and when the project launches it is the most important thing in their to do list. After a while though other things come along. These things distract their attention and they drift away, if not physically then certainly mentally. The team then isn’t getting the attention it needs or deserves.

Finally people start to forget where they have come from. It’s a natural human trait but we tend to forget what things used to be like. It often manifests itself as rose tinted spectacles, but on a project it typically turns up as people forgetting all the great work their team has done and focusing on the remaining issues.

What can you do about it?

Well for a start employ an experienced project manager. A good PM will have seen this before so it won’t come as a surprise and just like a good football manager he’ll realise that some people will need a kick, some an arm round the shoulder but all the team will need attention and re-energising.

Next – get the project sponsor involved. They don’t have to do a lot but one thing they do need to do is to provide energy and enthusiasm for a vital company project. Get them to reaffirm how important this is to the company and what a great job the team have done.

Keep a success log. Make sure it’s visible and review it regularly. It will help your team to remember what they have already achieved in the project so far and how well they have done.

Make sure that everyone keeps their eyes on the prize. Especially in smaller companies there will be pressure on peoples time and priorities. Ensure that the whole company understands why this is so important to the firm.

Have a non project day. Ban everyone from working on the project, close it down for just a day and if the budget will stretch have an event. Only one rule – no project talk.

Lastly don’t give up. The project was a good idea at the start, a good idea last month and just because there have been a few bumps along the way it doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea now. Push on through and before long you’ll find that actually you’re nearer the end than you thought!

If you’re not the customer…

…then you’re the product

I took the title for my latest post from this blog by Seth Godin here Seth’s blog

He makes a very good point that if you are getting something for free then you are probably the product.

We hear a lot in the business world about ‘monetization’. In other words how to take something and turn it into cash.

You can monetize a box of widgets by selling them to a customer. You can monetize your addressbook by selling the email addresses and facebook, linkedin, Google+ and all these other lovely free services monetize you by selling access to you.

In this lovely connected world one of the problems we face is actually only being connected when we want to be. I fully expect to see companies sprouting up offering to disconnect you so that you aren’t marketed at 24/7.

Of course I’m not sure how they’ll monetize that service.

Sometimes things go right

Sometimes things go right.

In my job there are often times when it gets very tedious. You spend a lot of time crossing Ts and dotting Is.

That’s because it’s all about detail and preparation. If you put the groundwork in then nine times out of ten things will go well. If you don’t then you’re in the lap of the gods.

Today things went well. We spent time getting detail right, practicing, testing and finally doing.

It was a boring job – migrating a clients chart of accounts from an old state of affairs to a new, shiny, tidy version.

The best compliment was when the users looked at me as though I was mad when I spent time walking the floor asking if everything was OK. 

 After all – why wouldn’t it be?

Numbers and levers

In the second of this series I’m looking at why you should always present a number with a lever attached.

When you present numbers to a director or a manager what do they want?

Generally if you ask they’ll say words like ‘clarity’ or ‘understanding’ but in fact what they are really after is the information to make a decision.

The question they are really asking is ‘should I pull this lever’.

Levers can be all sorts of things – ‘do I increase my adwords spend?’, ‘Should we buy more stock?’, ‘Where should we invest our surplus cash?’

What’s important is what drives your business. There’s actually very few drivers for most businesses. British Airways for example found that the one Key Performance Indicator (KPI) for their business was the gate turnaround time. If they turned their very expensive aircraft round quickly they were able to run more routes thus increasing their profit.

The question you need to ask is ‘what thing drives my business?’ There may be more than one of course but it’s unlikely there’d be more than say half a dozen.

Some examples of drivers

If you run a shop then a key performance indicator could be the sales per square foot. If  you change your stock mix, increase your prices or bring in new lines then it’s likely that your sales per square foot will be affected. Make a change and watch how your KPI changes. You then know whether you should pull the lever that says ‘buy different stock’.

A bakery might monitor waste. If you throw a lot of bread away then it suggests you’re either not baking what people want to buy or simply baking too much. It tells you to pull the lever marked ‘change your bake plan’.

A transport company may monitor MPG. When the vehicles start using more fuel then they are either worn and in need of replacement or a service.

Of course there are things that really aren’t KPIs with levers attached. Monitoring your rent is usually not productive. Most firms rent doesn’t change month on month and because they are tied to a lease there’s little they can actually do about it. No lever. Reporting the rent is simply confusing the picture.

In summary then the figures you report need to be something you can affect by your behaviour. A lever is something that is not only variable but can be affected by management action and all figures reported must have a lever attached.

 

6 Golden rules of presenting numbers

If you’re put in charge of presenting a lot of numerical data to a group then what can you do to make sure people see what you need them to see?

The first in this series is a list of golden rules to abide by to make your presentations stand out.

There will be more editions giving you further specific advice to help you with presentation coming soon.

1 Never present a number that doesn’t have a lever attached-

Seriously what’s the point? It may give you or your audience a sense of comfort to know there are loads of numbers floating around the organisation but if you can’t do anything with them then they are just so much noise.

2 Less is more – 

Don’t confuse quantity with quality. Focus on presenting just a few key metrics. The things that really drive the business instead of putting a number to every aspect of the firm and then printing them on a tree.

3 Space on the page should stay just that –

Lots of blank white space focuses the eye on the number you want people to see. Don’t use a lot of interesting and funky graphics, lines, colours or shading. Leave it clean and crisp and to the point.

4 Just because you can doesn’t mean you should –

No seriously, we know you’re good at excel, that’s why you’re where you are but just because excel 2013 can do sparklines doesn’t mean every sheet should have them. Steer away from the fancy stuff and go for understanding rather than pretty graphics. Whilst we’re about it backgrounds are an absolute no-no.

5 Always add context-

Numbers without context are just so much hamster bedding. The skill of a high level manager is not to produce accurate numbers (we kind of assume you’ll do that anyway) but it’s the richness of interpretation that adds real value to an organisation. Add (short) commentaries of why readers should care that Gross Profit is down and you’re getting there.

6 Always ask ‘Why?’-

Whenever you’re adding a feature, a metric or a format to a page ask yourself why. Does it add anything? If someone asks you to add in another figure to an already full sheet then ask them why. What specific insight is it that they hope to gain?

Now it may be that you’re in a regulated industry and you have to report in a specific way with specific information. In which case you should ignore all of the above because you’re not allowed to rewrite the governing body’s report structure. but for other internal reports you should use the above rules and go for clean, insightful pages that cut to the chase and you’ll be surprised how much more fruitful the discussions will be.

Putting

The more I practice

I heard a story once…

 

Arnold Palmer* was playing in a major when he hit a drive into a bunker on the edge of the green. He strolled up, selected a sand wedge, chipped the ball out of the bunker onto the green and it rolled neatly into the hole. Behind him a spectator muttered something about him being lucky. Palmer turned to the unfortunate chap and said ‘you know what, the more I practice, the luckier I get’.

It’s interesting because recently I’ve been getting that feeling. Not about golf (I’m a lousy player) but about work.

The more effort I put in, the more background reading I do, the more I talk to people and the more training, testing and modelling I do, the better things go.

Sometimes I can see people giving me the old ‘why is he asking that question? Of course we’ve thought of it.’ But the truth is that you can never assume that people have thought the same way you do and checked what you would have.

In the future I’ll be writing some of my findings from the world of project management. It’d be cool to think that maybe somewhere in the world, someone’s project went a little bit smoother because of a lesson I learnt on a tiny project in a little company somewhere in Dorset.

 

* Of course I’ve heard this story recounted many times since. Often it’s a different golfer involved and the wording is slightly different. Maybe it’s true, maybe not. Funnily enough this doesn’t seem to matter because the point is the same. Practice, preparation and effort all make a difference.