Often the problem in development projects, especially those that involve many people and parties, is that a lot of the information and knowledge about current discussions and decisions is merely captured in emails. Emails, however, are merely chronological and often contain many strings of thought. New thoughts are copied into new emails with new mailing lists. Parallel communication takes place with different people. In the end, the aggregation of the insights is nearly impossible and individual employees need to be assigned to collecting and documenting this information again. This is clearly inefficient.
The advantage of Google Wave is that multiple people can work on one Wave about a single topic and do not need to order their discussion in chronological order. Additionally, a clear change history can be used to track changes – and more transparent than with emails. Another point is that the information is centrally hosted for everyone to see and edit. It’s not concealed in individual mailboxes.
These advantages can also be found in JIRA, an issue tracker I am currently working with again. While Google Wave is not available yet and will be mainly focused on non-business use, the advantages described above can already now be used with tools such as JIRA.
I do not want to be unfair to the brilliant work of the Google Wave developers. It’s preview promises far more: real-time collaboration, inclusion of maps, editable in real-time, a great user interface with a people-centered approach and much more. But at the same time it will not have workflows included – it is not designed as an issue tracker.
I would hope that the JIRA developers and the community around it takes notice of the great stuff Google is doing and takes some inspiration for their own roadmap. This would ease project and knowledge management greatly.
For more info on Google Wave you should really watch this video:
We just had an interesting discussion whether a strategy paper can be made public within the company. For one, it would be most purposeful to inform the employees about the direction where their company is heading and how they plan to do so. However, not everything should be published because of the threat that the competition will get their hands on this paper. Some aspects should be kept secret, right?
But how far can you go? Can you state the opposite of what you are really going to do, just to surprise the market? Wouldn’t the employees feel mocked? What if they as well have advised you otherwise? Better not to tell them anything to avoid disappointment?
Publically limited companys, for instance, can not publish anything relevant to their expected performance, not even internally, as to avoid the “spreading” of insider information. Wouldn’t a more detailed strategy description in contrast to a high level vision paper be more motivating for the employees, though?
Comparing consultancies and agencies, the first impression is that they are very similar, almost the same. But there are some crucial differences. Based on these differences, I will present some recommendations for new media agencies to reduce risks and maximize the ROI.
Starting with the similarities:
- Both sell manpower and rely on the knowledge of their employees for quality in the work delivered.
- Both are called-for when work needs to be done that the client’s workforce is not capable of doing or is understaffed to do so – additional staff won’t be hired for short-term products.
- While consultancies mostly sell non-scalable amounts (working hours/days needed), the agency mostly sells outcomes (an end result of a project with a functionality) for a fixed price. Thus, agencies usually have a greater risk of not meeting time and budget, or the opposite may be true, generating a larger ROI than with the non-scalable work of a consultant. Agency work seems to be more risky, therefore.
- Since agency work involves more repetitions than consultancies, standard tools or technologies can be developed or learned in order to cut on time and budget. If an agency manages to exploit this possibilty better than its competitors even with the expected personalization, it may reduce its costs, and thus, their profit margin. As soon as these tools develop to fully scalable products without need of real personalization, it can not be fully counted as an agency anymore but rather as a vendor which is not the focus of this blog.
- The investment for receiving a job is considerably lower for a consultancy than for an agency. While it is sufficient for a consultancy to send consultant profiles to a (potential) client, that does not suffice for an agency to whin a pitch. A consultancy is usually confronted with a pitch that requires way more ressources than the adaption of existing consultant profiles. Often, weeks of man power are invested into concepts and presentations, not knowing whether the effort might be converted to sunk costs if the pitch is not won.
- Consultancies are seen as partners, helping out during bad times, agencies are usually seen as mere executors that adhere to the wishes of the client. In combination with fixed price projects, this may be a very risky combination for the agencies if requirement management and change request management is not handled well. A client’s wishes are most often inprecise at the start of a project and equally as often undergo changes during the project (well known scope-creep).
- Consultancies are most often requested for work on subjects with high management attention, mostly concerning the core competencies. The objectivity of consultants is required to best evaluate the sharpness of the competitive edge. Agencies are usually summoned to execute projects that need to be done, but are not recurringly vital to the company – otherwise the client would have invested in employees that could do the same work. In rare cases that is not the case, but then the client is so dependent on external suppliers (in this case agencies) I would not recommend this approach to him.
All in all, I have painted a picture that clearly shows more risks for the agency’s business. What would I recommend to reduce these risks and maximize ROI?
- Requirements management, change request management and bid management need to be exceptionally well handled. The first two because that may reduce unexpected costs during the execution of a project, the latter may reduce sunk costs by either prioritizing bids well according to the probability of winning them or by improving the quality of the pitch material, thus improving the chances of winning.
- Increasing the credibility and thus the trust with the potential client in order to increase the possibility of winning a pitch. Herein lies the power of communicating your knowledge openly and an increased brand recognition thereof.
- Constantly improving the tools you can use to minimize the costs while executing your project.
- Selling more projects of a kind to reuse knowledge, leverage well functioning tools and routine, and thus increasing economies of scale
- Selling more consultancy work as add-on to the mere execution of technological projects with a clearly defined output
Take these sub-definitions of knowledge:
- knowledge from the experience of past projects encompases process and client-specific knowledge. This deduces a higher probability of a successful implementation.
- knowledge of technology and/or special skills increases the probability that the professional service provider is capable of implementing what he has promised and reduces the risk of time-consuming learning on-the-job (eventual prolongations)
Now apply these fields to a professional service provider that has a low brand recognition and in my assumption also a small list of references. My visual outcome:
Market Strategies for Professional Service Providers with a Low Brand Recognition
A prerequisite for value generation through knowledge is the proper identification of an employee’s comptetencies. However, this is only the first part of the deal. The actual deployment of these competencies can only be facilitated when the management is listening to the ideas of the employee and allows for changes.
Any costs created by acquiring new and fresh competencies may be in vain when dreadlocked habits inhibit change and even ignore work already done. If the work is not leveraged due to a resistance toward the new approach, sunk costs are created. Additionally, frustration and demotivation might arise and inhibit further innovation introduced by the concerned or other new talents.
When you’re good at something – wouldn’t you want to try to perfect it furthermore to please yourself and others? Wouldn’t the pursuit of new challenges be the most important fulfillment possible to achieve? Where would you meet these new challenges: in your old job where you have been for 2+ years and where your work has become routine (and thus, masterly efficient) – or at a new job?
Probably, the highest risk factor for losing talents is their boredom. Additionally, the talents will very likely already know that they are welcomed pretty much anywhere (due to darn good job offerings). Stability and risk-avoidance is not a good argument for convincing a talent to stay.
What to offer?
What can you offer as an employer? Either more money or more challenging work. The latter is often not possible and also often not the most efficient and value-adding alternative for your company – a talent doing routine work would be way more efficient. Thus, you offer more money.
You also offer more money because you fear change. You fear that you might not find such a good talent again or that it would take a new employee too long to become as efficient or creative (if ever).
The problem with offering more money is that you’ll easily hit a number with the remuneration that might even make the best talent unprofitable. You build a bubble – the talent is overpaid. Additionally, you increase the market value of similar talents because a talent will expect the next company to pay at least the current oversized remuneration. And since that company has probably just lost a talent, they are willing to pay it (that oversizing of incomes and reputation is well documented in the movie 39,90).
But isn’t paying more money just a prolongment of the problem that the talent will soon be bored again? Even with more money? This will become a vicious circle until nobody can pay for these talents (and also pretenders by then) anymore and the market turns into either a winner-takes-all situation – one company has got the money for all talents – or talent remunerations burst and level out again with the larger companies having survived it.
When talent remunerations have leveled out again (still higher than for non-talents) the best strategy is probably to let talents go – because there’s always a talent in another company being bored and willing to leave and come to your place. Remember: they will leave anyway. So instead on focussing all too hard on retaining talent you should also spend quite a lot of time on scouting and obtaining talent. Get to know the common talent remuneration in your industry. Pay it – but only for real talents. Don’t overpay but don’t become inattractive for talents either.
An alternative, albeit very negative and inhumanistic strategy would be to convince the talents that they are not talents and every once in a while to assign unaccomplishable tasks. Is this a productive long-term strategy?
I just read in a blogpost on the Progress Blog that the author likes to differentiate between “cost” and “income” activities. Income activities include e.g. any billable work by a consultant. The central knowledge generation, codification and management would be cost activities, I guess.
But what is talking about that you know something (remember my early blog post about communicating your wisdom)? It’s very close to sales (convincing people of your qualities) – which the author clearly contributed to income activities. On the other hand, isn’t that classical PR work? Wouldn’t PR be a cost activity?
What the author also mentioned: “…these activities work together to create value for the end customer”. Does PR create value for the customer? It may, because the customer might receive status through working with a company that has a good reputation. But foremost it’s about impressing the customer – maybe even dazzling him. And PR is directed at more people than only customers – all stakeholders (at least a bit for each).
My solution: don’t call PR a “cost” or “income” activity. Call it a “reputation” activitiy.
Next question: is innovating a reputation activity?