A professional interim? That’s just a temp isn’t it?

If you are thinking about employing someone to complete a specific project or to steady the ship for a while then you may be considering employing an interim manager. But many people think that an interim is simply a posh name for a temp.

In fact there are a whole series of skills and attributes that an experienced and successful interim will bring to the table that make an interim professional much more of a value add proposition.

The first skill that you’ll probably see when you meet up with an interim is the ability to produce clarity. It’s likely that the first evidence of this will be before the assignment even begins as a good professional interim will want to examine exactly what you want to achieve from their appointment.

It may feel a little like you are being grilled but it’s all in a good cause. Being able to put some clarity around what it is that you actually want and what would be best for your business will make it much more likely that you’ll achieve a successful outcome.

The second attribute visible will be honesty.

This may sound a bit odd, because we usually expect that our hires in general and our financial specialists will be honest but I’m talking about a specific type of honesty here.

If the role looks like a non-starter then a good professional interim will tell you so. They will have plenty of experience and will be able to tell whether you are being unrealistic or not.

A great interim is probably identified as much by the roles they don’t take as the ones they do.

They’ll be honest about the skills they have and whether they think they can achieve what you want, they’ll be honest about whether you are being unrealistic with budget, timescale or outcomes and they’ll be honest about the resources that will be needed.

Again this may seem brutal, but the plain fact is that everyone needs to be on the same page from the start otherwise there will be upset along the way and there’s no benefit in an interim telling you that something can be done when it plainly can’t. It may give you a nice warm feeling but in the long run it will end in tears.

A great interim manager will have superb analytical skills. They’ll be able to tell very quickly where the problems are and what the skill levels of the employees are like.

An interim manager is most likely to be a high level, seasoned executive. They are not the sort of person to turn up with a host of problems and expect you to solve them. A great interim will come to you with a clear explanation of the issue but they’ll also have a selection of solutions for you to choose from. These will either be methods they’ve seen work elsewhere in their career or they will be solutions that they’ve worked up specifically for your business.

That having been said it is likely that you’ll only get to see the major problems that need addressing at a high level. An experienced interim manager is ‘fire and forget’. You can give them a task to complete and they’ll do so with the minimum of handholding or management, only coming to you or the board when they have something that requires further input.

One of the key attributes of a successful interim is their ability with soft skills.

An interim doesn’t have a long time to work out who is who and then build relationships. Instead they will be able to understand people’s places in the organisation very quickly and will then form effective business relationships very quickly indeed.

Communication is often crucial to the success of a short term role. Being able to effectively communicate at all levels of the organisation means that the interim is able to obtain accurate information quickly, analyse and then disseminate to the right people in the right way.

Building a great team, even if it is an informal one is another key skill that a superb interim has mastered. The experienced interim manager understands that they are just one person and consequently they won’t be able to do everything themselves. Instead they are able to bring colleagues along and leverage their specific knowledge and resources to achieve things that one person alone could not manage.

Starting and leaving a job every six months or so can be an emotionally difficult concept, as can the highs and lows of a project type role. An experienced interim has seen this all before and tends to be emotionally stable and resilient so that they are able to take the ’slings and arrows’ with good humour and a sense of perspective. Many people assume that their interim will get upset at the end of a contract but this isn’t the case. It’s just something that the interim accepts as part of their way of life.

A typical interim executive will be completely goal oriented. They’ll have built their career on achieving what the client needs quickly and effectively. Indeed their future roles depend on their track record, so getting a great result for you is all important to them. Having someone who isn’t thinking about their career in your organisation or the politics of the firm but instead are totally focused on the task in hand is incredibly powerful.

Finally your interim manager will bring the skills needed to complete whatever task you have set them but they will also bring vast knowledge of other companies and sectors allowing them to add value to other parts of your organisation. In fact executives often find that their interim becomes more of a sounding board for ideas as time goes on.

Hiring an experienced professional interim manager can be amazingly powerful for a business that needs to complete a project or is in a period of change. The skills that they carry with them and the knowledge that they bring to bear allows them to add significant value to their clients.

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

Business recovery through liquidation

It may seem counter intuitive, but one of the best ways to ensure recovery of a distressed business is to go through a quick liquidation process.

Whilst winding up a limited company means the end of the legal entity that is the company this is no reason to think that the actual business of the firm needs to stop. In fact it is a more common occurrence than people think for a business to close but for the trading style, brand and assets of the firm to continue.

If we imagine a very healthy company that has been saddled with historical debts but has a profitable trading business, it makes sense that the ‘good’ business is separated from the ‘bad’ allowing the new company to flourish and provide jobs in the future. Eliminating a firm simply due to some bad decisions that may have been taken years before or by people no longer with the firm seems irrational.

This makes sense when viewed from the point of view of the employees of course as they are able to continue in their jobs but with the knowledge that they have the security of a healthy and flourishing business behind them.

It is often the case that a business may be essentially profitable at an operational level but may be saddled with very high interest payments on legacy debt, may be tied in to a very large contract that has ceased to be profitable or to a lease on premises that are costly and no longer meet its needs. In these cases the day to day profitability will be eroded by the legacy issues and the firm may find itself facing Administration.

By taking quick action the directors could ensure that the legal entity that is the company is wound up in a structured and professional way by a licenced insolvency practitioner, and a new ‘phoenix’ company (newco) is formed which buys the assets and the good business from the old.

The old company retains those aspects of the bad business and is liquidated with any remaining cash and of course the proceeds of the sale to the ‘newco’. Using this structured and managed way to close a limited company ensures that maximum value is retained for the creditors.

Again it may seem that this presents a rather unattractive proposition for creditors however the alternative is even less palatable. Let’s imagine the same company carrying on as long as it can. Before long the interest or lease payments take their toll and the firms’ bills start to take longer and longer to pay. Eventually the directors lose the battle and the company is faced with insolvency but any reasonable chance of saving the trading company is lost along with any remaining value for the now larger list of creditors. The employees also suffer as the firm then closes down with loss of jobs as a result.

A managed liquidation of a company is also better for the directors. Opting for a quick liquidation is cheaper than waiting until it is forced upon them by bankruptcy. The chances of accusations of wrongful trading through insolvency are reduced and the directors can then be free to get on with managing the newco secure in the knowledge that they have done their legal duty .

Restructuring a limited company in this way ensures that the brand and trading styles of a business can be retained. It means that the firm is still able to serve its customers and given that it should now be a profitable and cash positive company may well mean that it is able to expand and grow. All of which means that a restructured firm that was to all intents and purposes failing now becomes a valuable asset to society providing jobs and of course taxation income for the economy.

Liquidation isn’t right for every company and there are other ways the firms can restructure. There are also clearly costs and legal implications so we’d always advocate that specialist advice is taken from a licenced Insolvency Practitioner before making any decisions. However liquidation in the right circumstances can prove to be good for the directors, employees, creditors and customers of an insolvent company.

 

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.

Advertisement

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

To compromise or not? that is the question

Seemingly simple decisions can get stuck in the mud and seem to be intractable when you are working on a project. The inspiration for this entry comes from a talk given by Sophie Personne at a networking event I attended recently. Sophie runs an excellent local business called Sophisticated Singles and spoke eloquently about the power of compromise.

Sadly compromise is something that is often lacking in project meetings with political game playing, resistance to change and downright obstinance all playing a part, so how can you push decisions through when things get tough? Here are a few tips to help you on the way.

Tip 1 – Speak to people privately. Sometimes taking 5 minutes out of a meeting environment can help people understand the other’s point of view. Simply taking time to listen can often show up misunderstandings that actually would be masked in a meeting room.

Tip 2 – Find out the real reason. Often people will dig their heels in on an issue for an unrelated reason. I remember one project where an accountant absolutely refused to budge on an issue. It turned out that this was as a result of management not spelling out where he fitted into the organisation post project. Once he’d been given clear sight of his future position he became a positive and valuable team player.

Tip 3 – Understand the impact of everyone’s suggested course of action. If a course of action has no impact on the project, won’t cost anything but makes people feel more included then why wouldn’t you adopt it? Sometimes sitting down with each side and spelling out what the consequences will be can often produce a compromise position easily.

Tip 4 – Use peer power. If people can see how their actions are affecting others then often they will at least compromise or sometimes back down entirely. In a group setting spell out what effect the impasse is having on the rest of the team.

Tip 5 – Get the project sponsor involved. Sometimes whatever you do people refuse to back down. Get the sponsor in to sit people down and clear the blocker. This needs to be used sparingly because the power of the sponsor and the shock of them getting involved tends to wane when they turn up every day to mediate on minor disagreements!

Tip 6 – Get an outsider in. Often people that work together every day will react differently (and be much more grown up) when an outside agency becomes involved. Get an independent (ahem!) professional in to do a project review and see how that moves things along.

If you need help with your project then get in touch for an initial chat and we’ll see if we can get your team to compromise!

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

What buying behaviour is and why you need to know

We all want people to buy what we are selling right?

But I’m a firm believer that we can’t make people buy they have to choose  to buy.

If we understand how people choose to buy then we can put in place all the information they need to make a positive choice. Buying behaviour is all about the steps people go through when they are making that choice.

Think about the last thing you bought. How did you decide who to use or what product to buy?

Oddly, although we’re all different, research has shown that humans make buying decisions in the same way. We may take longer or shorter time, gather more or less information but we still go through the process.

There are 5 steps in this process and the great news for businesses is that understanding these steps allows them to make it easier for the consumer to choose their product or service.

These are the steps that people go through when they are thinking about buying something;

  1. Recognition – people realise there’s a need either on their own or they get prompted.
  2. Search – when they realise there’s a need our prospective buyer will do an information search. They’ll probably do an internal search ( memories of good/bad experiences, recommendations that friends have made, ads they’ve seen) or they’ll do an external search by checking Google or asking around. They’ll look at all the features of something they want to buy and maybe subconsciously will rank them in order of importance.
  3. Matching – they’ll make up a short list of possible buys and then match them against the ranking that they made up in the previous stage.
  4. Choice – They’ll form a short list and then make a choice based on the results of their matching process
  5. Purchase – they actually go through the process of buying

However there’s something important that businesses need to know. A buyer can choose to either re-start or leave the process at any time. So if your prospect gets all the way through to stage 5 and your purchase process isn’t smooth and intuitive then they can easily drop out and go and find another supplier. Similarly if no product gets through the matching process they may go back and do another more detailed information search.

Stage

What buyers do

What you need to do

Examples

Recognition

Realise there’s a problem – decide whether to do anything about it

Prompt people to realise there’s a problem or create a need

Insurance, car cam belts, gas boiler servicing

Search

Look for information on solutions both internally (memories) and externally, develop assessment criteria

Make sure you are around and that they can find information, make sure that you are memorable so that you are stored internally

Google, tourist information,key fobs, Meerkats, loyalty schemes

Matching

Assess features and benefits of each against their criteria developed in stage 2

Ensure your benefits are clear and that you compare favourably. Factfind. Give incentives or bespoke

Mobile websites, comparison sites, comparison charts

Choice

Decides which (whether) the product sufficiently matches the criteria

Spell out how your product meets the need, answer request for further information, bespoke your service

Statement of benefits, Car websites

Purchase

Goes through with the purchase then evaluates their experience and stores it in memory for next time

Make sure it’s easy to buy

Repeat orders, shopping lists

The process is longer or shorter depending upon how important the purchase is. The more important a decision, the more consequences or the more expensive then the more information the buyer will seek. Would you look to do a structural survey on a shed? Probably not. The consequences of getting it wrong won’t be as disastrous as choosing which house to buy and it doesn’t cost as much money so consumers won’t look for as much information and won’t view as many alternatives.

As an aide i’ve included some questions below, see if it gives you any inspiration for marketing your business or product

Stage

Questions

Recognition

  • At what point do your customers realise their need?

  • Is location important (A kebab shop outside a pub)?

  • Is timing important (Buying a cycle helmet with a new bike)?

  • Can you induce need (Telling customers that they need to get their boiler serviced)?

Search

  • How would a customer find out about you?

  • Are you memorable?

  • Would they recommend you?

  • Are there any places that people always look for your service?

  • Are there any times that they look for information?

Matching

  • How do you show your customer that you match their criteria?

  • What methods are available to help the ‘ticking off’ process

  • Is the customer able to bespoke your service?

Choice

  • Are you able to spur a customer into choice?

  • How do you avoid your customer going round again?

Purchase

  • Do you make it easy to buy?

  • Are there any blockers to buying?

  • If there are can you remove them or make them easier?

  • Is it easy to repeat buy?

These are the steps for a personal purchase and we’ll usually make them in isolation but often the business buying decision can be the same or similar. It may have more formal steps, it may be longer but it’ll still contain the same basic methods although it may well include more people in the decision making process.

If you tailor your service or product to the way that people buy you should have happier customers. Happy customers will come back (because of their information search) and you’ll have a busy business. Everyone’s a winner!

 

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

Windows 8 – my favourite workarounds

Right let’s be honest Windows 8 isn’t the best. (I’m trying to be diplomatic)

When it first appeared I absolutely hated it. This was a fine example of a company taking it’s user’s thoughts on board and launching them straight into the bin. I’ve started to get used to it and some of the features I love (but only some). I find it difficult to understand why a company will take probably the best known user interface and stamp on it with a big fat muddy boot (rant over).

To be fair W8 works fine when you have a touch screen but if you are a desk based person then it’s rubbish.

On the plus side there are a series of workarounds that can make your life less traumatic.

First off if you’ve got Windows 8 then download the update Windows 8.1. This is a sign that Microsoft knows it’s made a boo boo. For those of you that hate the fact that MS got rid of the Start button then you’ll find it returns when you download it. You can find out more about W8.1 here http://windows.microsoft.com/en-gb/windows-8/meet

Tip 1 – remember the scroll wheel. When you are on the ‘Charms’ ( I know, I know) screen then the scroll wheel is really useful for moving from one end of the icons to the other

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

This is the hideously named ‘Charms’ screen

Tip 2 – reorganise your charms. Move the ones you want the most to be front and centre of your home screen. Simply click your mouse on them, hold and drag the icon to where you want it to be.

Tip 3 – to find the program you want then just start typing on the charms screen and W8 will bring up a list that matches like this (click on the image to see a bigger version)

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

Search from the start menu

Tip 4 – Learn some handy shortcut keys. Here’s some of the ones I use most:

  • What to shut down? Pressing the windows key and ‘I’ at the same time brings up the stupid settings thingmy (press Esc to make it go away
  • Opened a program you didn’t want? Press the Alt key and F4 to shut it down. ( this closes the program so save your work if you need to keep something)
  • Want to move between programs? Hold down the Alt key then press tab, each time you press tab you’ll move to another open program, let it go and the one you chose will magically appear
  • Zoom in or zoom out. Hold down Ctrl and turn the mouse wheel
  • Want your desktop? Press the windows key and ‘D’ at the same time. If you’re already on the desktop then it’ll show you the start/charms screen.
  • Visit this place for more keyboard shortcuts http://windows.microsoft.com/en-gb/windows-8/keyboard-shortcuts

Tip 5 – right click on the start button – you did download W8.1 right? Well when you do you’ll get a funky new device from MS called a start button (what a great idea).  Right click on it and you’ll get a list of the most commonly used features like signing off and shutting down. Smashing.

windows button

ooh look! What a great idea from Microsoft

Tip 6 – and this is the best one. Use it. Seriously Microsoft is trying to force its way into the mobile/tablet arena and they won’t drop W8 so we’re stuck with it for a while. The best bet is to start using it, exploring the functions and getting to know the cheeky little fella. Just be comforted by the fact that everyone else hates it too.

windows

The Windows key – bet you wondered what it was right?

tab

The tab and Alt keys – now you know why they are there!

 

This post isn’t designed to make you a W8 wizard. All I want to do is take some of the pain away. There’s some great communities on the web that will be able to tell you much more than I.

To get you started there’s another really useful article on customising the whole Windows 8 experience here http://www.networkworld.com/community/blog/how-customize-windows-81-start-screen-and-keyboard-shortcut-tricks

Good luck!

12 principles of estimation best practice

Estimating is a key skill in ERP implementation projects. It’s vital to get a clear sight of how much your project is going to cost and how long it will take but what are the best practices for this vital skill?

Magne Jorgensen produced the top 12 estimating best practices and I’ve taken these and added in some of my real world experience and suggestions as to how you can manage the process.

(1) evaluate estimation accuracy, but avoid high evaluation pressure – Studies have shown that giving people a bonus or basing their appraisals on a good estimation track record actually decreases their ability and accuracy. Treat the estimation process as a collaborative effort and you’ll get better accuracy and a happier, more committed team.

(2) avoid conflicting estimation goals – It seems an obvious one but telling your analyst that you need a supremely accurate cost and then telling them that it mustn’t come in over X will make their work less reliable. Go for accuracy and not political expediency.

Thomsett (1996) gives an excellent example in his ‘software estimation game’

Boss: Hi, Mary. How long do you think it will take
to add some customer enquiry screens to the Aardvark
System?
Mary: Gee . . . I guess about six weeks or so.
Boss: WHAAT?!!!! That long?!!! You’re joking, right?
Mary: Oh! Sorry. It could be done perhaps in four
weeks . . .

We’ve all been there right?

(3) ask the estimators to justify and criticize their estimates – Very often a firm will have a culture of perfection and not being able to admit mistakes. In a project environment this is often disastrous. The truth is that any cost prediction will have shortcomings. Ask your estimator what these are and then take a view as to whether you mitigate or look for more information.

(4) avoid irrelevant and unreliable estimation information – Sometimes people include information in their estimate that is unreliable purely because they have nothing better to go on. The truth is you are better off understanding that there is no data rather than basing a decision on something that could be misleading.

(5) use documented data from previous development tasks – If you’ve done work in the area before, or even if you had a project in the company that wasn’t the same you can still use the lessons learned documentation to inform your estimates for the new project. You did do a lessons learned document didn’t you?

(6) find estimation experts with relevant domain background and good estimation records – Music to my ears. Get in an expert even if it is only to help with estimation. Studies show that experience of the software you are putting in is great but across a number of different platforms is even better.

(7) Estimate top-down and bottom-up, independently of each other – Don’t let the golden idea of how long a project should take affect the bottom up process of analysing out how long each task will take. Do both completely separately and you’ll get a much clearer view of the likely cost/time implications.

(8) use estimation checklists – if your software provider or partner has a checklist then so much the better but if not then sit down at the start of the analysis phase and think about all the bases you want to cover. You can add things in along the way if you forget something but make sure by the time you get to the point of choosing your software that you have covered everything in your original list.

(9) combine estimates from different experts and estimation strategies – Two heads are better than one or put another way you want the most expertise from as many different areas and with as many different points of view as you can. Get them all together then aggregate to give you an overall view.

(10) assess the uncertainty of the estimate – The only thing you can be certain about is that there is a certain level of uncertainty (with thanks to Rowan Atkinson). Estimates are only a guide but what you can do is put numbers around key points of your forecast to give you an idea as to how risky the project is.

(11) provide feedback on estimation accuracy and development task relations – this goes to points 5 and 6. If you want to identify who in your organisation is a particularly good analyst of projects then you also need to be developing them. Feedback is a vital component in this. Similarly feedback into a lessons learned document the results of your estimate versus the actual costs. You are keeping a lessons learned document right?

(12) provide estimation training opportunities – as above really. Good experienced estimators have been shown to be much more useful than a statistical model but they have to come from somewhere so start getting people involved in projects. if you are paying an outside consultant to come in and do this for you then make sure you allocate an internal person to shadow them, learn and develop the skills for in-house use.

Using these best practices when producing your project estimates will help give you the confidence that you are on the right lines and produce a better outcome.

If you’d like some external help with producing a cost estimate for your project then please do contact us -we’d be happy to help

References:
Jorgensen. M., 2004. A review of studies on expert estimation of software development effort. Journal of Systems and Software, 70(1–2), pp. 37-60.
Thomsett, R., 1996. Double Dummy Spit and other estimating games.American Programmer 9 (6), 16–22.

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

The top 5 signs that your project might be going wrong

As a non executive director you’ll probably have oversight of a number of projects during your tenure but how can you tell if things are going awry when you are remote from the project team? These are my top 5 signs that things might be going wrong.

One of the great things about being a non executive director is that you have the opportunity to take a detached higher level view. This gives you a chance to spot things that look out of place when someone much closer and more invested in the project may not be able to see the signs.

There’s an old saying that ‘there’s nothing new in the world’ and in the universe of projects that’s especially true. One thing that shines out from the reams and reams of literature on implementations is the consistency of the type of problems that projects face. The good news is that NEDs can use that consistency to spot when their firm may be facing issues.

There are really only 3 ways in which a project can be classed a failure – the system is late,  over budget and it’s not to the specification required. Here I present my top 5 ways to spot if any of these is on the horizon.

5 – High spending very early on. Projects, especially those that need infrastructure will incur higher costs early on for things like servers, cabling etc. but staff costs should generally be higher towards the end when you are entering the testing/training phase. If your project has used up a very high proportion of its budget or the spending is not matching the project cash flow predictions then it’s time to ask questions because it may well end up using up all of the money when it’s too late to turn back. Make sure a ‘Cost to complete’ is included in the project reports that the board should be getting regularly from the project team.

4 – Things mysteriously disappear from the schedule. I have honestly seen software houses just leave things out of a project report because they decided it was too difficult to deliver. They hoped that if they didn’t mention it then people would forget that they’d asked for it in the first place! Good organisation is the key here. Make sure that when you receive project reports they include all aspects of the proposed implementation and that the risk register is kept up to date.

3 – Missing early deadlines. Through the life of the project there will be mini deadlines that crop up. Producing a system for a ‘look and feel’ demonstration system for instance. It’s usually a sign of how the company providing the goods does business and it’s folly to think that this leopard will change it’s spots halfway through a project. If your provider starts to miss early deadlines then you need to start exercising the firm’s authority and exert proper control over targets.

2 – The project sponsor goes AWOL. One of the key critical success factors cited in the literature is full high level back up from the project sponsor. Unfortunately they are generally very busy people and often, although the project is the focus of their attention on day one, by the time they get halfway through your sponsor will have moved on to more pressing matters. The difficulty is that this is the point at which their input is most needed. As a NED the sponsor is also your direct link to the project so get them to focus. If something else is taking them away then reassign the task.

1 – Lack of clear direction. This is my absolute number 1 priority for any project big or small. The great thing for a NED is that this can be seen right from day 1. If you read the project description and there is no clear and unequivocal statement of what actually will be achieved by investing the firms money then your project will fail. This is also the point where a good NED can add the most value. Challenge (in a constructive way obviously) all the way to the point where the contract is signed. Make sure that the proposed system is properly and completely planned and scoped so that everyone has a clear sight of what the company want to achieve. If you don’t then you can expect trouble!

Above all my advice is to trust your intuition. If something doesn’t sound right, if the project manager becomes evasive or people begin to stare at their feet when budgets or schedules are on the agenda then it may be time to dig a little deeper!

 

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.

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