Mutterings of a consultant

May 19, 2008

TED – Ideas worth sharing

Filed under: General rambling — grantfrear @ 6:06 am
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The web really is a wonderfull thing.  I am constantly amazed where I end up and what I find.  Recently I came across a web site titled TED.  TED is an annual conference that is held in Montery, CA that attracts some of the worlds best minds to present on a wide range of topics.

I am not a huge TV fan and have found the TED site somewhat addictive as a TV replacement.  I have lost many an hour on this site watching some great presentations.  They probably have the best video streaming technology that I have seen.  It is indexed and allows you to fast-forward the streaming – very nice.

I have provided a link below to a truely great presentation on poverty and the development of nations. 

TED – poverty and the development of nations

 

May 11, 2008

Consulting 2.0

Filed under: Uncategorized — grantfrear @ 8:58 am
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I have been giving some thought to the 2.0s lately.  We are well and truly in the grip of Web 2.0 now, we have written about Government 2.0, albeit the reality of this is some time off, and we are starting to see the maturing of Enterprise 2.0 and Business 2.0 (which has a magazine dedicated to it).  I even came across the HR 2.0 when researching something for a client and their HRIS strategy.

So how come so little is written about Consulting 2.0.  The few posts that I could find on the topic seem to be from disgruntled ex-consultants who have an axe to grind with their former employers.  There have however been a number of books on the future of consulting, one notable contribution to the debate was the book issued in collaboration with the Economist magazine which looked at the changing face of consulting and the clients that buy their services.

If we apply the common themes from Web 2.0, Enterprise 2.0 and Government 2.0 to the field of consulting what would it look like?

Firstly from an internal perspective Consulting companies are often run along the lines of Enterprise 2.0 philosophies already.  They are highly collaborative, teams are formed and reformed to meet specific client needs, diverse backgrounds come together to exchange ideas on how to address the clients problems.  All of these are attributes of less hierarchy and a more contemporary view on the management of human capital.  Clearly from this observation consulting companies are doing well from an internal perspective.

Is the scorecard as rosy from an external perspective, the client’s perspective?  Are these internal capabilities translated into performance on client site, applied to the client’s business problem.  I think this is where most models of consulting fall short of the expectations of an Enterprise 2.0 client.  

I will leave you with those open questions and share my thoughts some more in a subsequent post.

May 4, 2008

Powerpoint suicide

Filed under: General rambling — grantfrear @ 2:29 am
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Every now and then you get to look at our profession from the other side, from the clients perspective. I was recently invited as the client’s representative to a meeting with a team of consultants who had one of their regional ‘big swinging dicks’ in town.

As soon as I entered the room I could tell I was in for a treat. There they were, a team of consultants with a laptop on the table, poised to attack. It was clear they had one thing in mind, a powerpoint duel. There was one thing that was for sure, the presentation was going to be all about them.

After the introductions off they went, over to the most senior member of the team who opened with the following fateful phrase “I have a few slides prepared, we will not go through all of them’. After about 20 slides we finally got to the most notorious of all consultants slides, the brag slide. This slide is usually jam-packed full of client logos that the client is meant to be impressed with. I often wonder however if all this does is confirm how promiscuous the consultant really is.

I have to admit that I have been in many similar meetings where I have been on the other side of the table. Myself and my collegues have been so keen to impress we launch into some form of powerpoint suicide before even addressing the simple questions
– What is the client expecting from the meeting?
– What are the important issues that as a consultant we should focus on?

This experience was a timely reminder to how our profession and approaches are percieved across the other side of the table. I can only wish that I could have these experiences more often as I am sure that it would make me a better consultant. Perhaps I should have asked permission to video the experience so that I could replay it at times when I found myself getting adrift from the client’ perspective.

April 25, 2008

Enterprise 2.0 – even some accountants get it

Filed under: worklife — grantfrear @ 1:23 am
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My peers from Australia are commitment to innovative business ideas.  One such example is the adoption of Enterprise2.0 and Web2.0 in a business that is more frequently associated with conservative accountants.

So going back to the Internal Audit pitch I mentioned in a previous post.  Much to my surprise our proposal included innovative ideas on use of Enterprise2.0 and Web2.0.  Not only was this the last thing that I had expected in a proposal for internal audit but also to my surprise the lead audit partner was articulate, knowedgeable and enthusiastic about Enterprise2.0.  In fact this enthusiasm went as far as the Australian team developing a prototype wiki and blog to demonstrate how we would work with the client in a modern collaborative model.

This clearly demonstrated to me that our team in Australia had fully understood the potential impact and uses of Web2.0 technologies and Enterprise2.0 thinking. Internal audit is at its core a collaborative activity, client and consultant work together to review and provide a degree of challenge to the actions of a management team. What better way to get client and consultant working together than through a Web2.0 platform. A wiki through which reports can actually be developed by a virtual team, online environments to share experiences and to capture knowledge and learning, blog sections to allow the open sharing of knowledge and the discussion of critical issues.

As you can tell I was very impressed by both the thinking and the commitment. A few of my team have approached my about the use of Facebook as a business tool. Clearly I am very supportive and in true Enterprise2.0 style I am not applying any controls or structures onto what they are developing. The power of Enterprise2.0 is that it develops and changes in a way that makes most sense to the participants. I will no doubt put up a post when my team has something to show for their curiosity.

In the meantime if anyone is interested check out Ning and create your own social network.

 

April 18, 2008

Multi-disciplined teams (again)

Filed under: worklife — grantfrear @ 1:49 am
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I know I have written about this before however I had such a great experience recently that it warrants a little more discussion. 

I was recently drafted into a team to present a pitch to a client for internal audit work.  My initial reaction to this was to groan.  Not only was I very busy but internal audit is something that I do not really have a passion for.  If I was to spend my evenings preparing I would rather it be on something that excites me.  Needless to say I got over myself and put as much as I could into the presentation.

The process by which we brainstormed the content was by no means optimal however when we all managed to get together for our rehersals something magic happened.  Not only did we gel as a team but we also started to see the opportunity from each others perspective.  As we talked through the presentation content we all started to develop a more robust understanding of the client’s issues and their vision.  Not one of us had a complete and comprehensive picture until we came together, each with our own experiences, opinions and areas of expertise.

We pitched up on the day for our presentation and suprised even ourselves.  We had passion, insight, perspective, wisdom and showed that we were a tight team and were committed to the client and their vision.  One of our team had a quote (see below) that unfortunately hit the cutting room floor during rehersals.  I thought that it was great so here it is.

“When our views come from a common source we are likely to be surprised together – and with greater magnitude and impact.  Things work best when we are busy forming our own independent views and sharing these with our colleagues”

April 14, 2008

Discovery vs. experienced based processes

Filed under: worklife — grantfrear @ 10:12 am
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I have for a while been thinking about ‘process centric’ consulting.  This form of consulting is particularly good for solving problems that are unique and advice based.  In this situation the consultants value comes from the fact that they have a process or methodology to solve a particular problem.  This approach has been the bread and butter for consultants for years. 

From time to time a problem appears that requires a different approach.  Most often this is the result of a well known or common problem presenting itself to the client.  In this case the client values the consultants experience.  Where have you done this before?  What solutions should I be evaluating?  These are the questions that indicate that you have stumbled into one of these situations.

Applying a process centric method to these problems can really frustrate a client.  They can percieve this approach as learning on the job, of taking too much time, of being unsure and uncertain. 

It is clearly important to recognise the situation you are in, apply the right approach and make sure that the team you have deployed on the problem is appropriate to the problem itself.

In summary: 

Process based problem solving model looks like this:

  • investigate-interview-analyse-recommendation

Experience based problem solving model looks like this:

  • hypothesis/expectation-current state-gaps-recommendation

April 9, 2008

How strong are your convictions

Filed under: General rambling — grantfrear @ 9:57 am
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It is very easy to say that you stand for something or believe in something. Somewhat harder to demonstrate it.
Having recently sustained an injury as a result of a mountain bike accident I could no longer ride my scooter to work.  While contemplating my injury I also spent some time reconsidering the scooter as an transport option.  Quick, efficient, low environmental footprint it may be but it is also dangerous as they say it is only a matter of time before you are an unwilling participant in a serious accident.

So here I am, about to give up the scooter and being confronted with what next. 

I am quite open in my views on sustainability and have in the past promoted public transport.  The scooter has however provided a way for me to promote my sustainability views while still having the convinience of private transport.  

Are my views for real or are they just for show?  This was the question that I put to myself when I evaluated my choices.  So where have I ended up?  While my current situation ‘forced’ me to take a bus, it transpires that it is not that bad.  In fact it is remarkably efficient.  It has even provided an opportunity for me to clear e-mail in an otherwise jam-packed day.  I have therefore decided that between the bus and cityhop (car pool scheme) my transportation needs are satisfied.  Clearly there will be occasions where timeliness is a priority and when this is so I plan to travel by taxi.

I guess this means that my convictions are reasonably strong.  Time will no doubt test and challenge these convictions however.  In this case time will most certainly tell.

April 2, 2008

Workplace design

Filed under: worklife — grantfrear @ 8:56 am
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We are currently planning to move to a new office.  This is a significant event on a number of fronts.  Not only is it a hugely expensive exercise and requires a huge commitment, it also provides an opportunity to review culture and the role that the workplace/environment plays in recruitment, retention and performance.

The first of many decisions has been made.  When confronted with the decision to move to a part of the city that is in the middle of urban regeneration or a main street location we decided for the safe option, main street it is.  While there is great potential in developing areas of cities the amount of unknowns was simply too much.  In my mind this is just the start.

Tradition 1 – 0 Contemporary

The next frontier is the fitout.  We currently have a very traditional workplace.  It looks somewhat like a filing cabinet for people.  It encourages order, conformity and following tradition.  Much has been written about the role of the environment in creating a culture.  For example innovation seems to thrive in open plan, non-hierarchical environments.  While for a time it seemed the battle in workplace design was Funky vs. Functional.  Now it seems that you can have the best of both worlds, Funky and Functional. 

The following pictures should provide some food for thought.  These are images of the Google offices in Zurich, a city that has a strong brand of tradition.

March 24, 2008

Visual Thinking

Filed under: worklife — grantfrear @ 1:38 am
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Perhaps its is because I have broken my arm that I have rekindled an interest in visual thinking. While one handed typing is certainly a slow and error prone existence, it is more likely the recent article in fastcompany that made me stop and look into this again. It seems that corporates are investigating visual alternatives to help address complex porblems. Even Microsoft under the leadership of a NZ CFO resorted to images in an attempt to explain and improve corporate financial reporting.

So where has this latest research sent me; firstly to amazon to buy a recently published book; secondly to a blog (indexed.blogspot.com) and thirdly to YouTube for something entertaining.

March 15, 2008

Corporate golf – a great leveler

Filed under: General rambling — grantfrear @ 1:19 am
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It’s that time of year again where I have to dust off the golf clubs and prepare for an afternoon of frustration and moments of pure embarrassment. The corporate golf day is part competition, part networking and part torture. In my case it only comes around twice a year and as long as I keep rotating clients through my teams I have some chance of managing the damage that these days may cause to my reputation.

It is however a great leveler. While money can get you the most advanced technology it does little to make up for a lack of skill and an inability to put together a smooth swing. My take on good golfers is as follows
1. They picked up a golf club young (muscle memory)
2. They play often (practice)

So now back to the corporate golf day. Bring together a group of people who have all achieved in business (by their very nature there is a competitive streak in each player) however as a result of their success they do not have enough time to address point 2 (above), practice (at least in hard working NZ where we work some of the longest hours in the OECD) . Furthermore, since success often comes late in life and in business success and golf are often synonomous then a lot of the players started the game late (see point 1 above). All things considered these days tread a fine line between great networking events and an embarrassing situation for all involved.

Last year for me it was a very frustrating afternoon which resulted in my team being so far from the leaders that we appeared on the second page of the ppt results presentation. I was determined the wooden spoon would go so someone else this year. This clearly meant I needed a strategy. In my case it was to pick clients who enjoyed a good laugh (which is critical if you can’t play golf), hardly ever play (thus providing the team with a healthy handicap) and had nothing to prove (apart from my desire to stay away from last place).

The result. By some miracle we came 6 out of 20 teams. We all played patchy golf however somehow managed to avoid all playing badly on the same hole. While it was an enjoyable afternoon, I will not be hanging up the mountain bike in favor of golf anytime soon.

Have however found this rather funny YouTube clip that blends business, golf and humor for those that are interested

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