A to Z of Project Management

Think Oak!, Mark Conway, Project Management

Most business leaders are acutely aware of the dynamic nature of the business and economic environment and more so today than ever before. Every organisation big or small has to take into account priority, time, resource allocation, scope and budget of each project within their organisation. It is only if these factors are well managed with consistent project management processes, that business will  thrive and get good results. So, to effectively meet the dynamic nature of projects, great project management is a must in business. Delivering a quality service or product is seen as the mandatory obligation for business survival.

In this A to Z of Project Management, I’d like to focus on some of the more critical areas of focus for Project Managers and those working on complex projects.

A – Acceptance Criteria

Acceptance criteria are the specific set of conditions that must be met before a project has been considered completed and the project deliverables can be accepted by the customer, be they internal or external. Normally the acceptance criteria should be outlined in specific detail and signed-off before work on the project has commenced to ensure that all parties are in agreement.

Acceptance criteria are typically used on projects where the customer is paying for specific deliverables or for the completion phases in a project.

You should ensure that the acceptance criteria that are developed, are appropriate to the deliverables, are binary (either acceptable or not acceptable), are measurable, and tied to payments (whenever appropriate). Customers are refuse the sign-off on the deliverables for two legitimate reasons; either the project results have not met their needs, or they themselves were not clear about their needs. By working towards a clearly defined set of acceptance criteria before you start working on your deliverables, you will be protecting yourself, your project team, and your organisation.

B – Business Case / Benefits Realisation

Before the Project: The purpose of the business case is to outline the rationale for undertaking a project, and to define the parameters and management factors involved in the project itself such as time, quality, cost, resources, materials, benefits and timelines. It provides the project manager with a tool to guide the design, management and evaluation of the project.

The business case serves three purposes: it provides the project manager the opportunity to think through the project in a systematic, step-by-step manner; explains why the project should be undertaken; and provides a framework for completion of the project on time and on budget.

During the project: The business case should be updated to reflect actual costs incurred and any changes to forecast costs and benefits. This information can be used by the Project Board to assess whether the project remains viable and to take decisions accordingly.

At project closure: The updated business case should be handed over to whoever is going to take long-term responsibility for delivering the benefits.

Benefits realisation stage: The business case will be used as the baseline against which to measure achievement of the actual benefits and to inform any resulting decision-making. A Benefits Realisation Plan produced during the end of the project should be used to establish what each benefit should be, the units it should be measured in, the optimum timing for measurement, the method of measurement and responsibilities for realisation and measurement.

C – Critical Path Activities and Analysis

Critical path activities are the project tasks that must start and finish on time to ensure that the project ends on schedule. A delay in any critical path activity will delay completion of the project, unless the project plan can be adjusted so that successor tasks finish more quickly than planned.

D – Delivery Success

Delivery success has got to be the number one goal for a Project Manager. Below are 3 key areas that I believe are the keys to delivery success (apart from you being a fantastic project manager, of course!)

1. Comprehensive Planning

Comprehensive planning sets up a project for success from the start. All stakeholders should be on board during the planning process and always know in which direction the project is going to go. Planning can help the team to meet deadlines and stay organised. Good planning not only keeps the project team focused and on track, but also keeps stakeholders aware of project progress.

This first step in the project process allows for a reliable and realistic time-scale to be created. Assuring accurate time for cost estimates to be produced and for clear documentation of milestones and deliverables will make things much easier as the project progresses. A proficient plan details all resource requirements and doubles as a warning system. If task slippage is at risk, then a warning system will provide clear visibility of what to expect.

Use the best planning tools possible to help you and utilise lessons learned from previous projects to help you avoid those common pitfalls in planning

2. The Right People

Without the right team in place, any strategy and plan has the potential of completely falling apart. Because of this, the core project team, expert resources, suppliers and key stakeholders should be part of the team from the outset. All of those involved must have commitment to the group, share similar visions for the projects and strive for overall success.

Project managers can face serious trouble if inadequacy is present within the team. Inept leadership or an out-of-sync team can send a project towards failure. It is important to assign the right people to each aspect of the project and make sure that they are working well together. Additionally, the entire team should be completely informed and involved in order to have the most successful outcome, which means that communication has to be a key priority.

3. Communication

Keeping open communication within the team is absolutely essential. When working under a specific timetable, it is important that the team remains well-informed. If a problem arises on one part of a project, it can negatively impact other parts as well. Communication should also be focused internally within the organisation. Listening to stakeholders and paying attention is a very important ingredient for success.

Good communication also includes knowing when to say no. A project team should never promise anything they know they can’t deliver. Saying no in the beginning could save unnecessary problems later. Always be honest about what your team can do and when it can be done by.

It is the project manager’s job to ensure that everything runs smoothly on a project, but having a great project manager doesn’t guarantee a successful project outcome. The entire team paying attention to key factors is what will help lead the project to true success. This success will then lead to proactive, organized project plans and an increase in quality of all future projects.

E – Executive Support

The importance of obtaining executive management support for business critical or customer projects cannot be underestimated as the executive sponsor is ultimately responsible for the outcome of the project.

In numerous studies it has been identified that:

  • The most successful projects have quality executive sponsors with expert vision and  prompt responsiveness
  • Projects with inspirational executive management support outperform projects that lack inspiration
  • Visionary executive sponsors who enlighten their team have a higher rate of success.
  • Strong and decisive executive sponsors increase the rate of project success
  • Teams that have small and large accomplishments celebrated by executive management continue to meet and exceed project expectations
  • Most failed projects lack quality executive support.
  • Non-responsive or mediocre executive support increases the chances that a project will experience overruns or failure.
  • Assigning project accountability to executive management substantially increases the chance of a successful outcome.

F – Finances

Step 1: Understand and check your budget

The first step towards managing your project finances is to understand the budget you are working to. Don’t necessarily accept the budget to be 100% accurate. I would always advise a thorough review. You need to forecast the total amount of people, equipment, materials and other expenses, needed to deliver the project. You then need to work out when in the project plan, these expenses will take place. By doing this, you can get a picture of your “project cashflow” which tells you the amount of money you need for every week in the project. Hopefully the budget will match the forecast. If not, you’ll need to escalate to your sponsor quickly and before you commence the project in earnest.

Step 2: Contingency

Understand what level of contingency budget you have to work with, if any. This is additional funding that can be used to deliver your project, if you need it. Few Project Managers actually do this in advance, but if you have almost completed a major deliverable and you suddenly run out of money, then that contingency funding might “make or break” the project. You are always in a better position to get contingency funding before you need it, rather than asking for more cash when you’ve already overspent.

Step 3: Tracking

The next step after setting your budget and securing contingency funding is to start tracking your daily spend on the project. You need to track every expense that occurs. Ask your team to notify you of any expenses incurred.

Step 4: Realignment

If you anticipate that you will start spending more than your budget, you have 3 options available to help you stay within budget:

  1. Re-forecast your expenses and present a new budget to your Sponsor for approval.
  2. Start reducing costs immediately. This means spending less to get the same job done. Or alternatively, see if your Sponsor will agree to a reduced scope, so that you have less to produce for them.
  3. Start using your backup funding to get you through the crux of the project.

Step 5: Cashflow Management

Make sure you always have enough funds available to cover your spending over the months ahead. Cashflow management is about managing the cash needed to deliver your project. So, on longer projects, ensure your Sponsor has approved the next 1-2 months of work ahead of time, and that the funds needed to manage the project have been made available. Then track the spending of that funding every week.

G – Governance

All projects involve decision-making and stakeholder relationship management at different points in the project life-cycle and at a variety of different levels. Governance provides the framework for such decision-making. The project governance arrangements must be designed during Project Start-up and will usually be a tailored blend of the basic requirements mandated by your organisation and any specific arrangements to meet the needs of a particular project. The tailoring will depend on such things as predicted benefits, cost, urgency, complexity, risk and type/quantity of stakeholders.

Project Governance provides a framework within which to manage and should cover:

  • Initial and continuing justification of the project
  • Setting up an appropriate management organisation
  • Establishing a framework for decision-making (roles/responsibilities/authorities)
  • Ensuring sufficiently thorough plans are prepared and updated as necessary
  • Implementing a stakeholder management strategy
  • Putting in place a quality management strategy
  • Setting up and operating a project monitoring and control regime
  • Managing uncertainties (threats and opportunities)
  • Managing problems and changes

H – Highlights / Lowlights and Other Reporting

Every project manager understands the importance of project reporting. Throughout all phases of the project, specific information needs to be communicated to the sponsors and key stakeholders. In a typical project, the milestones for reporting are determined in the beginning, or initiation phase, of the project. These reporting timeframes and expectations are located in the project initiation document. Clear communication is critical and will make the project manager’s job easier, as well as help the project succeed.

Project management reports can come in all shapes, sizes, and forms, good and bad.  A good project management report can set a team apart and provide valuable information to sponsors.

Regardless of the project, at least one project management report must be submitted regularly by the project manager. Often-times these reports can be as simple as updates on how the project is going, since many upper-management personnel are not interested in the details of a project. They are strictly interested in knowing that the project is on schedule and on budget and can often be a simple Highlights / Lowlights report.

At other times, they’re more detailed, involving usually six key metrics: meeting scheduled deadlines, cost, use of resources, scope changes, quality control and taking action. Most of your reports will fall into the latter group. But, they will probably all come in different formats.

Your audience is particularly important when writing a project management report. Some people will want more information; some may want less. You may have a large audience or a smaller one. Sometimes the people who are reading the reports have different technical abilities and levels of knowledge. In such cases, you should gear your writing for a wider audience. There will also be different requirements for when project reports are due therefore, it is good to get this information beforehand.

Most customers and managers are not interested in narratives and prefer reports to be around one page long. Many project management reports are simply yes and no answers with brief descriptions. You will have questions like the following: “Did the project start on time?” “Is it on budget?” or, “Are there any issues that have arisen?” As stated, when approached with these type of situations, the person receiving the information is only looking for short answers in addition to the yes or no response.

I – Initiation Document

Have you ever been part of a project where not everyone has the same view of where the project is heading? This lack of clarity can breed confusion: People start pulling in different directions, building up unrealistic expectations, and harboring unnecessary worries and fears. While it’s normal as part of a project to put the detailed plans, controls and reporting mechanisms into place, how do you get everyone on the same page to start with?

This is accomplished by creating a Project Initiation Document (PID) – the top-level project planning document. In it, you bring together all of the information needed to get your project started, and communicate that key information to the project’s stakeholders. With a well-put-together Project Initiation Document, you can let everyone understand where the project’s heading from the outset.

Your Project Initiation Document does the following:

  • Defines your project and its scope.
  • Justifies your project.
  • Secures funding for the project, if necessary.
  • Defines the roles and responsibilities of project participants.
  • Gives people the information they need to be productive and effective right from the start.

By creating a PID, you’ll answer the questions: What? Why? Who? How? When?

J – Juggling Priorities

In today’s work environments where multitasking between numerous tasks is the standard, resources often tend to over-commit by multitasking. When a resource multitasks, all tasks will take longer than if they were done one by one. If a resource works concurrently on two tasks of 5 workdays, chances are he or she will take more than 10 workdays to complete both tasks due to the effort required to “change gears”. Furthermore, the resource will most likely meet its local objectives by doing the easiest task first and the most difficult tasks last. Not always the smart thing to do!

In most organisations, when the project objectives are in jeopardy, functional managers will reassign their resources to have them prioritise their tasks in accordance with project objectives. Shorter project lead times and multitasking explain why resources working for their best interests constantly have to switch to working for the best interests of the project.

K – Kick-off Meeting

The initial stages of a project can make all the difference to its overall success, so the kick-off meeting needs proper planning and consideration.

There are four key principles for good kick-off meetings:

Preparation

Productive kick-off meetings require good preparation, and your aim is to find the best ways to generate ideas and gather opinions from your attendees. In fact, don’t see it as a meeting at all – see it as a workshop. Design various exercises which guide your team members through the key questions and problems relating to the project. But keep your agenda flexible. Depending on the content that is generated, the discussions and the mood of the room, you might need to change things around on the day to keep the creativity going.

People

You might be inclined to only invite the key decision-makers to your kick-off meeting, but you’ll limit your project’s potential if you only hear the views from the top. A true collaborative approach is to bring in everyone who will be involved – from strategy to delivery – to shape the project. They’ll contribute valuable insight from their position, as well as getting a clearer idea of the bigger picture for their own knowledge. The exercises you design will be to ensure that everyone has a chance to provide their views.

Purpose

One aim of the kick-off is to build the team’s energy and motivation around the project, and another is to make it practical. In her post “How to Increase Group IQ“, Annie Murphy Paul, wrote how the most effective teams discuss how they’re going to work together as well as what they’re going to do. Allocating some time to ask people to reflect on what works well (and not) in collaboration will help them to set up better working relationships.

Attendees will also need to come away with a clear idea of what’s happening next and their involvement in this. Ideally, rather than just distributing the meeting’s minutes, the raw notes will be analysed and developed into a document that the team can work from.

Participation

An effective kick-off meeting will be a highly collaborative experience and good facilitation makes the difference to this. Your role on the day is to encourage contributions from everyone and guide the meeting/workshop without getting involved in the ideas generation yourself. If you think this will be difficult because you are too close to the project, think about using another facilitator. You’ll need to listen and reflect back key points, organise ideas and identify themes on the spot, find out attendees’ motivations for being involved and develop this into common goals.

Bearing these four principles in mind, a few small changes to your project kick-off can make a huge difference.

L – Lessons Learned

Everything learned from previous projects, whether they were successes or failures can teach a project manager, and people working in project teams, important lessons. Individual project managers usually do learn from their own previous experiences, but are these “lessons learned” shared with others within the project team or within the same organisation? If they are shared, do other project managers apply the lessons to their own projects?

Capturing lessons learned from projects is key for any organisation. Unfortunately, project teams are usually moved quickly from project to project and capturing lessons learned is never a priority. To ensure efficiencies over time and development of best practices, it is essential to capture lessons learned on your projects.

In looking at lessons learned, many times we find things like – should have had a better schedule, or better budgeting, or more communications, spent more time on requirements, etc. All of these things relate to how we do the work, not what we work on. Talking about how things get done or working on how things get done does not, in and of itself, get anything done. This is one of the reasons so many people hate planning – planning is not doing and we all like doing.

M – Milestones & Inch Pebbles

Milestones are events within a project plan that marks the completion of a group of tasks with significance to some other group inside or outside the project. Milestones are often represented in planning tools as a project task without a duration.

Milestones are associated with key deliverables. Crucially the achievement of the milestone must represent “confirmation that the deliverable is fit for purpose”. Many projects allow milestone achievement to be recognised at publication of an unverified (not checked to ensure the development process was followed faithfully) and unvalidated deliverable (i.e.not checked to ensure completeness and accuracy). The value of project planning and tracking is severely undermined if milestone recognition is faulty.

Inch-pebbles are the smaller steps towards a milestone that assist the project manager in assessing if milestone achievement is progressing to plan. Inch-pebbles represent concrete steps (no pun intended) towards deliverables, for example requirements interviews completed or first draft document published.

N – Name and Shame Process

Unfortunately, in today’s climate of doing more with less, project members are often not full-time on a project and they often have very busy ‘day jobs’ as well as the tasks to deliver on your project. Even the best project managers sometimes struggle to use their powers of persuasion to get members of their project to deliver their tasks on time. In my career, I’ve always tried to advocate the 3 strikes process.

Strike 1 – the first occasion of non-delivery

You as the Project Manager have a discussion with the non-performing team member and emphasise the importance of the project, the strategic value and importance to the organisation, and the impact, financial or otherwise that the lack of activity has or will cause the project. Get agreement with the team member on remedial action and put a communication agreement in place, so that if there is a future risk of non-delivery or forced changes in their priorities, you will be informed well in advance of the deadline that there is a problem, so that you might be able to do something about it.

Strike 2 – the second occasion of non-delivery

Assuming that the second instance of non-delivery is a ‘surprise’ and you hadn’t been made aware of a potential slip, then a conversation with the individual and their manager is appropriate. A discussion around communication, priorities and future delivery needs to ensue.  An agreement with the team member and their manager should be reached on meeting project deadlines, and implications spelt out. The sponsor of the project should also be made aware.

Strike 3 – the third occasion of non-delivery

At this point you may have some difficult choices to make, and depending on the priority of the project within the business and the severity of the impact, you will need to consider replacing the individual with someone internally or externally (potentially at a higher cost) and delaying project delivery, which may incur further cost and other impacts such as new revenues, reputation damage or both.

O – Operational Acceptance Testing

Whether internal or external it is critical that the end to end processes for operational teams on the receiving end of a project launch have been tested and documented and that the resources involved within these processes have been fully trained and have signed off on any changes to ways of working.

Depending on the complexity and sensitivity of your project to the ongoing operations of your organisation or customer you may require a significant period of testing or parallel running to ensure that the ‘customer’ is comfortable to go fully live. All of these tests and acceptance criteria will of course have been fully agreed, well in advance of the testing taking place!

P – Planning

Fail to Plan, then Plan to Fail as the saying goes!

A Project Plan can comprise many elements, depending upon the project type, scope, technology, resources and other key project parameters.

In truth, the delivery plan should only be produced once the full scope of the project has been agreed. In some environments, this should be formally approved by the appropriate authority Sponsor / Project Board. It must also be examined rigorously from the perspective of risk . Key strategic project decisions are the most important we make on projects, and have the maximum capacity to influence risk, both positively and negatively. An example could include the partners or suppliers involved on the project – always a potential for risk.

As a minimum, a project plan should contain an analysed project schedule, a resource plan that is driven by the schedule (i.e. changes to the schedule are automatically reflected in the resulting resource plan). These elements are often referred to as the first principles of project management – sadly, these first principles are too often overlooked. The output of this phase should contain or in a sense summarise the results of all planning decisions, including risk mitigation and planning. Ideally it should also be based upon estimates that do not rely upon single point estimates of time and effort alone. Such approaches typically produce a plan that has limited probability of being achieved – something that is often refered to as the ‘happy path’….which often leads to a road of misery for Project Managers and the Project Team!

Planning must include the identification of risks to any aspect of the delivery process or the planned benefits – these can be commercial, organisational, political or any other type of risk – there are often many risks outside of those that relate to the technical aspects of the project. It is typically as sign of weakness of risk management if the only risks that have been identified are technical. Risk mitigation strategies and actions should then be developed and incorporated (integrated) into the mainstream plan.

The plan must also contain relevant processes and activities to assure that all quality targets of the projects are achieved. Again, in many circumstances this will result in an important work stream in itself.

Together, all the work streams or statements of work collectively define the scope of work of the project. In many environments this will be managed via formal change control.

The plan should be formally reviewed by all core team members and relevant stakeholders, for completeness and validity. This is then published and often referred to as the baseline plan.

The best plans also build in sensitivities, based upon those risks identified, so that a worst case, especially from a time and cost perspective can be recognised and mitigated.

Q – Quality, Cost, Time

The three most common primary objectives in project management are lowest cost, highest quality and shortest time. Very often the gain in one of these objectives needs a compromise in the other.

Time is the available time to deliver the project, cost represents the amount of money or resources available and quality represents the fit-to-purpose that the project must achieve to be a success.  The normal situation is that one of these factors is fixed and the other two will vary in inverse proportion to each other. For example time is often fixed and the quality of the end product will depend on the cost or resources available. Similarly if you are working to a fixed level of quality then the cost of the project will largely be dependent upon the time available (if you have longer you can do it with fewer people).
The astute reader will be wondering what happens when two of the points are fixed. This is when it really gets interesting. Normally this occurs when costs are fixed and there is a definite deadline for delivery, an all too familiar set of circumstances. Then, if the scope starts to creep you are left with only one choice – cut functionality. This more common than you might think, in fact its more common than not!

Top tip – The Sponsor / Board should ALWAYS be involved in formal changes to any of the ‘Holy Trinity’ – This is not a Project Manager decision to make.

R – RAID

RAID is an acronym which should be at the forefront of your mind if you are a project manager. RAID stands for Risks, Assumptions, Issues, and Dependencies.

Risks

A risk is any specific event which might occur and thus have a negative impact on your project. Each risk will have an associated probability of occurrence along with an impact on your project if it does materialise. An example of a risk might be that a change in legislation could mean you will have to redo some of your project and this will impact the schedule by x and cost y. As project manager it is your responsibility to ensure a Risk Management Process is undertaken, managing and mitigating risks, along with ensuring risks are routinely and effectively communicated with your stakeholders.

Assumptions

An assumption is something we set as true to enable us to proceed with our project or program. Typically this happens during the planning and estimation phase of the project. As an example of an assumption, during the early planning phase we might assume that we have access to skilled engineers throughout the entire duration of the project. By making this assumption it enables us to produce our plan. If this assumption turns out to be false then the project is negatively impacted. Because assumptions can turn out to be false and impact your project adversely, it is your responsibility as project manager to monitor and manage all assumptions so minimal impact to the project occurs.

Issues

An issue is anything which arises on your project which you have to deal with in order to ensure your project runs smoothly. Issues differ from risks in that they exist as a problem today, unlike risks which might turn into issues in the future. An example of an issue might be that a key project resource has left the business and it may take a number of weeks to bring in a replacement resource.

Dependencies

A dependency exists when an output from one piece of work or project is needed as mandatory input for another project or piece of work. An example of a dependency in a building project might be that the architectural diagrams need to be complete before the foundations can be laid. Managing inter-dependencies is critical to ensuring projects, regardless of their size, run smoothly. As project and program managers it is your responsibility to record, monitor, and manage these dependencies.

S – Scope

The primary purpose of project scope management is to ensure that all the required work and only the required work is performed to complete the project successfully. This is accomplished by defining and controlling what is included in the project and what is not.

To define a project scope, you must first identify the following things:

  • Project objectives
  • Goals
  • Milestones
  • Tasks
  • Resources
  • Budget
  • Schedule

Once you’ve established these things, you’ll then need to clarify the limitations or parameters of the project and clearly identify any aspects that are not to be included. In specifying what will and will not be included, the project scope must make clear to the stakeholders, senior management and team members involved, what product or service will be delivered.

T – Testing & Training

In my experience these are the two areas of a project that get squeezed following any quality, cost or time compromises. They are also the two areas of a project that, if not carried out effectively or at all, will cause a project to fail or to be delayed. These two areas need to be as rigorously planned upfront as any other part of the project and any contingency built into the overall plan.

Testing

There are so many different types of testing that it would be difficult to come up with a comprehensive list. Additionally, each type of testing typically has a number of variants that have been developed based on the team creating the testing strategy. However, the most common types of testing used by a majority of projects are:

Unit Testing – refers to the testing of individual software components as they are completed. This type of testing is typically completed by the development team.

Integration Testing – refers to the testing of components as they are combined or integrated together. This ensures that each component that has been tested on its own operates correctly when it is used in conjunction with the other components that it is designed to interact with. This is particularly important for client/server and service oriented architecture systems.

User Acceptance Testing – refers to testing that is performed by the user or end customer of the system or process as a condition of approval. User Acceptance Testing is where the user/customer ensures that the final application or product meets the agreed upon requirements. This is also why traceability of requirements throughout the entire Analysis, Development, and Testing life-cycle is so important.

Functional Testing – refers to testing the features and behaviour of an application to ensure that it coincides with the functional software specifications provided. This type of testing is also referred to as black box testing because it completely ignores the internal workings of the program and focuses only on the outputs as a result of the specified inputs and execution steps.

Usability Testing – refers to testing the ease in which users can learn the application, as well as the users’ efficiency and productivity while using the application.

Performance Testing – refers to testing performed to evaluate whether the system, product or process meets the documented performance requirements. Performance Testing ensures that the system, product or process will support a specified number of users / activities while still maintaining specific service level agreements (SLAs). This type of Performance Testing is also called Load Testing. Additionally, during Performance Testing, often it will be required to test the limits and determine the maximum number of concurrent users that can be supported before the system fails. This is referred to as Stress Testing.

Regression Testing – refers to testing a portion of the application that has previously been tested following a modification to ensure that the original functionality still works and behaves per the specification. While Regression Testing really just means to go back and re-test, it typically refers to Functional Testing.

Training

Depending on the project you are managing, you may need a significant amount of training for end users, particularly if the project is introducing new software, systems, hardware or significant changes to working processes.

Whilst it is advisable to employ training professionals as part of your team, as a Project Manager you still need to ensure that the training is carried out effectively, in a timely manner and that this is signed off by the client.

Top Tips:

  1. Plan your training effort up-front, ideally as part of the business case. Know who needs to be trained, to what level and what skill levels are required to carry out the training.
  2. Tailor the training. Know your audiences and ensure that the training is pertinent to their role and department in the organisation. One size doesn’t fit all.
  3. Create Super-users. By investing extra time with a number of ‘Subject Matter Experts’ within the client or team, you can reduce the amount of in-life support you will have to cope with, as the majority of user error can be dealt with ‘in-house.

U – Understand Your Scope, Your Budget, Your Timelines, Your Team & Your Customer

As a project manager, if you can have a deep understanding of these 5 areas, you’ll be well on the way to delivering successful projects. An unwavering focus on Time, Quality and Cost, tied with a great working relationship with your teams and your customer will ensure that you keep on top of any risks and issues to your project.

V – Virtual Teams

Virtual teams are increasingly prevalent in today’s world, and a great deal of high quality information exists on how to work effectively as a team. As well as the economies that can be achieved from virtual teams, this style of project offers great potential for harnessing talent from many locations. Managing a virtual project team can be richly rewarding, and requires many of the same core competencies as managing a co-located team, with the added element of being highly sensitive to communication styles and ensuring appropriate styles are used depending on the occasion.

Watch out for future posts on virtual team working.

W – Waterfall and Agile Projects

Waterfall Project Management

Project managers traditionally identify a number of steps to complete a project, which typically must be completed sequentially. In traditional project management there are typically four stages:

  • Requirements
  • Planning & design
  • Implementation
  • Completion

Not all projects will include every stage, but most projects include elements of these stages, sometimes repeatedly as one activity relies on the completion of the last. Most complicated projects require many more stages than this, which could include:

  • Conception
  • Initiation
  • Analysis
  • Design
  • Construction
  • Testing
  • Production/Implementation
  • Verification
  • Maintenance

It’s called the waterfall method because tasks are completed sequentially..

It is widely accepted that the waterfall development model works well for small, well-design projects but can fall short in bigger, less well-defined projects that may change over time. The waterfall model originates in manufacturing and construction, where project are well-defined and after-the-fact changes are extremely costly and often impossible. It was when this model was applied to software development that its unresponsive nature became a flaw.

Agile Project Management

The agile project management model, or flexible product development approach, and is most commonly used in software, website, creative and marketing industries. In this approach project managers see a project as a series of small tasks defined and completed as the project demands, in a responsive and adaptive manner, rather than as a pre-planned process.

Agile project management’s flexible and interactive characteristics are highly relevant to the industry where it was created – software development. It’s thought that this technique is best used on small projects, or projects that are too complex for a client to understand before testing prototypes. It’s also highly appropriate for teams of professionals who work together on a daily basis. It’s much less likely to be an appropriate methodology for teams that are based in geographically disparate locations/time zones, where it probably makes more sense to implement the waterfall method.

Choosing between models can be difficult, so if you’re struggling with this question, ask yourself the following questions;

How stable are the requirements?
If the requirement of a project are likely to keep changing, its best to use iterative approaches such as agile, as it provides a framework in which new requirements can be accommodated once the project is underway. Using waterfall methods is like playing snakes and ladders; you can move forward but you can end up back at the start if the brief changes.

Are project teams working closely together?

If project teams are located far apart, coordination of work needs to be relatively detailed to avoid confusion and wasted time. In this instance Waterfall is likely to be the most appropriate method, offering clear deliverables and project milestones and dependencies. Working closely together with close communication is a key part of the agile approach, which changes and is molded each day by customer requirements.

What are the critical resources?

When projects require unique, specialist skills or equipment and these resources are not immediately available, good planning is required. If this is costly or difficult to organise, it’s important to ensure that the resource is fully utilised during its scheduled usage. For this Waterfall is a better approach, as each milestone must be completed before the project can proceed to the next stage. This will help to ensure that critical resources are used minimally and efficiently.

X – eXpectation Management

Accurately mapping expectations requires skillful listening and the ability to decipher what’s meant, not just what’s said on projects. Don’t be afraid to enlist senior management to ask questions on your behalf. As you begin to understand your stakeholders’ expectations, they will fall into two groups: realistic and unrealistic.

Realistic expectations still need managing. Make sure you can fulfil them — then make sure the stakeholder knows you are meeting them. Your communication plan must present the right information to the right stakeholder in the right manner.

Unrealistic expectations are more difficult to manage. They are unlikely to be met, and when you fail to achieve the “impossible,” the project will be deemed a failure. Fortunately, expectations are not fixed, but exist in a person’s mind and can be influenced or changed.

The key to shifting stakeholders’ expectations is to provide new and better information.

Developing a communication strategy that brings the right information to the stakeholder’s attention in a believable fashion is a subtle art. This is particularly tricky when advising upward with the goal of changing senior managers’ expectations. (I’ll write more on this in my next post.)

Y – Your Role as a Project Manager

The skills required for a successful project manager come from every discipline. Some are basic interpersonal skills while others are more technical. Some of these skills are learned only by experiencing success and failure in managing projects.

Here is a further breakdown of some of the skills required to properly and efficiently lead projects and teams to success:

Personal Skills

  • Team work – knowing how to listen, share, cooperate and learn together as a team
  • Positive attitude – important for difficult times incurred along the way throughout the process
  • Ability to clearly articulate expectations – clearly define what is expected of team members and define expectations on your deliverables to your management
  • Manage by example – project managers must be straightforward and knowledgeable in all dealings.
  • Be direct – do not overpromise and under deliver

Technical Skills

  • Technical knowledge and skills required to complete the project
  • Depending on the type of project it may be certain computer programs and software languages

Management Skills

  • Critical thinking
  • Decision making
  • Negotiation
  • Growing and sustaining a high performing team
  • Managing budgets, costs and expenses of the project
  • Project execution and control

The skills required are many and varied. A project manager must be prepared for all situations and be able to manage uncertainty and change in a less defined environment. A project manager must lead by example and motivate all parties involved. The project manager must strive to further develop and enhance their skills so as to continue leading their team to success.

Z – Zero Hour – Go / No Go

The decision to go-live with a project is one of the most important decisions in the project life-cycle and getting it wrong can jeopardise the success of the entire initiative. Whilst the Project Manager is always under pressure to deliver within schedule, sometimes it is prudent for them to step back and delay go-live rather than risk the consequences of project failure. Project Go Live decision should be taken only after thorough confirmation of following:

  • Sufficient user training
  • Adequate product testing
  • Stakeholders approvals
  • Any security activities tested and complete
  • Resolution of critical defects
  • Mapping workflows and exceptions
  • Business processes documentation and understanding
  • Interfaces integration & validation
  • Successful data migration & validation
  • Ongoing change management mechanism
  • Testing of backups and disaster recovery
  • Clear accountability for ongoing support

So, well done for getting to the end of this A to Z! I hope you found it useful, and as always would love to hear any feedback.

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A to Z of Career Progression

A to Z Career ProgressionThe world of work has evolved and changed significantly in the last 20 years. No longer is a job for life and you need to be in the driving seat when it comes to career progression. When did you last make time to reassess what you want from your career? Maybe today is that day! I thought I’d put this A to Z together to give some tips on where you might focus, what planning you might want to carry out and what action you can take to work on your career.

A – Ambition

I guess you wouldn’t be reading this post at all if you weren’t ambitious and didn’t want to learn more about how to develop yourself, your standard of living or find your next role.

Donald Trump extols the importance of ambition with the following quote:

“Get going. Move forward. Aim High. Plan a take-off. Don’t just sit on the runway and hope someone will come along and push the airplane. It simply won’t happen. Change your attitude and gain some altitude. Believe me, you’ll love it up here.”

Unfortunately, ambition by itself will not get you where you want to go. Ambition must be paired with action and execution to be truly meaningful.

B – Brand You

What is it that you want from life? What’s your vision for your own future? What personal values do you live by? What’s important for you in your life? Where would you like to be in 10 years? How do you want to be perceived by others?

I’ve found a couple of simple ways to get to the bottom of some of these often tough questions.

  1. Imagine that you were told you had 10 years to live, starting today, and you would be completely healthy during that time. How would you spend that time?
  2. Imagine that you’re 100 years old, you’ve lived your life to the full and you know that you only have a minute or so before you leave this world. Your great-granddaughter is sitting by your side and she asks you – ‘From everything you’ve learned from your life, what advice could you give me as to how I get the most from mine?’

Doing these two exercises could have a powerful impact on you. They did with me. Your answers will help you understand your personal brand and brand values and ultimately your OMG – your One Magnificent Goal!

For more information on your personal brand please see a downloadable series of posts – Brand New, Brand You

C – Career Planning

So, you’re ambitious, you understand your personal Vision, Values and what you want from life. That’s more than most people, so you’re off to a good start!

If you’re a regular Think Oak! reader you’ll know what comes next – Goals! Setting Goals for your career path, will help you monitor your progress and give you a plan, that you should revisit at least quarterly, but I would suggest monthly.

Your career plan should have some short, medium and long-term goals. Work back from your One Magnificent Goal, your OMG (if you have one!) and fill in the milestones along the way and more detailed, inch-pebbles in the nearer term.

It’s a good idea to review this with at least one other person on a regular basis to keep you honest and on track.

Download a free Think Oak! Career and Development Template here

D – Discipline

Progressing in your career and working through your personal development plan requires commitment and discipline. One of the main reasons why people fail is that there is no discipline in their action. They give themselves excuses why they cannot consistently follow-up on their plans. You will need to sacrifice some personal time to complete your goals in your career plan and that sacrifice takes discipline. Discipline also ensures that you can be persistent, especially when faced with challenges after challenges in your journey to success.

Entrepreneur, author and motivational speaker, Jim Rohn said:

‘We must all suffer one of two things: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret or disappointment’

Your choice!

E – Elevator Pitch

You’re in an elevator, a corridor or at a party and the CEO of the firm you’ve always wanted to work for, is standing next to you. What do you say?

Elevator pitches are developed to relay just enough information to cause the person you’re speaking to, to ask, “Tell me more.” If you’re lucky, the CEO will say, “If you have a few minutes, I want to hear more.” If you’re even luckier, your prospective boss will ask you to set up an appointment the next day to meet up. All of that from the development, memorising, and tweaking of a few simple yet incredibly powerful words.

Putting your pitch together

1. Who are you? Introduce yourself and your credentials up front. There’s no point in saying anything if the listener has no idea who you are or if you have any credibility.

2. What’s your objective? Get to the point quickly about what you are looking for or how that person can help. Being direct not only grabs attention but helps the listener to put your pitch into context.

3. What can you do for the listener? This is where you explain how recruiting you will meet their need. Your goals and dreams are all well and good but remember in the end what you are offering must benefit them. This is your chance to communicate what makes you someone who your audience should consider helping.  People typically like to help those that they feel will be successful in the process.  There are a few things you should think about when highlighting your qualifications:- industry relevance, leadership, expertise, pedigree, and impact.

4. The close – this is tricky to deliver effectively, but ideally you need an outcome to the conversation. This could be a follow-up meeting with the person you’re pitching to, a name of someone who you need to contact to follow-up, or some advice as to how to reach your goal.

Once you have your personal elevator pitch, practice it in front of the mirror. If possible, try to video or audio tape yourself, and watch it in fast forward. You’ll be amazed at your nervous habits!

F – Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway

In Susan Jeffers’ book ‘Feel the Fear And Do It Anyway’, she gives some great insight and practical tools to help you improve your self-belief and your ability to face even the things that you fear the most.

It’s almost impossible to go through life without experiencing some kind of failure. People who do so probably live so cautiously that they go nowhere. Put simply, they’re not really living at all.

The wonderful thing about failure is that it’s entirely up to us to decide how to look at it.

We can choose to see failure as “the end of the world,” or as proof of just how inadequate we are. Or, we can look at failure as the incredible learning experience that it often is. Every time we fail at something, we can choose to look for the lesson we’re meant to learn. These lessons are very important; they’re how we grow, and how we keep from making that same mistake again. Failures stop us only if we let them.

G – Glass Ceiling and How to Smash It

Despite knowing that you have much more potential, is there a limit for “people like you” in your organisation? If so, you’ve hit what’s known as the “glass ceiling.” This is the point at which you can clearly see the next level of promotion – yet, despite your best efforts, an invisible barrier seems to stop you from getting there.

Historically, the glass ceiling concept was applied to women and some minorities. It was very hard, if not impossible, for them to reach senior management positions. No matter how qualified or experienced, they simply were not given opportunities to further advance their careers. Thankfully today, there are many more women and minorities in powerful positions. However, the glass ceiling is still very real. And it’s not always limited to gender or race.

Below are 5 ways you can help to smash through the glass ceiling:

  • Align your objectives and competencies with senior management
  • Build your internal network and relationships
  • Over-perform in everything you do
  • Find a mentor within senior management
  • Move sideways under a different manager who will support your growth

If all else fails you do have a choice to move from your organisation altogether for your next career move.

H – Hard Work

I don’t know many successful people who have got to where they have without a great deal of hard work. True hard work never goes unnoticed. You will gain a recognition and prominence not only in the organisation that you are working in, but also outside the company in your profession.  This will surely work for you when you are creating your job reputation & professional profile.

I’m not saying you have to work 16 hour days every day, although that might be necessary sometimes. I’m saying that 9-5 no longer exists; a job for life no longer exists; and a ‘God-given’ right to promotion based upon your tenure in an organisation, no longer exists.

I – Intuition

Boosting your intuitive intelligence and using it to “coach” you on the job can be your career’s secret weapon. This was confirmed in a research study at New Jersey Institute of Technology, which tested hundreds of business managers for intuitive ability. Those who demonstrated superior intuitive ability also were better at effective decision-making skills. In a Harvard study, 80 percent of surveyed executives credited their success to intuition. And business luminaries from Conrad Hilton to Bill Gates to Oprah Winfrey have declared it essential for success. Donald Trump said, “I’ve built a multi-billion-dollar empire by using my intuition.”

So, how can we use this valuable skill on the job to become smarter, better employees? You can boost your intuitive intelligence by becoming aware of it, tuning in to what it’s trying to tell you, and heeding its advice. Like any skill, the more you practice it, the easier it becomes.

J – Job Satisfaction

Generally, you can have three fundamental approaches to your work:

Is it your career, your job, or your passion?

Depending on which category of work you put yourself in, the things which offer you satisfaction will vary.

If you feel you are pursuing your career, then chances of promotion and career development opportunities will measure your levels of job satisfaction. Your overall level of satisfaction will be closely associated with your power, status, or position.

If you feel you are doing a job, then it is the salary which will measure your levels of job satisfaction.

If you feel you are pursuing your passion, then work itself will determine your level of satisfaction, no matter what money you are earning or what your position in the organisation is.

In order to attain job satisfaction, first realise what kind of person you are and what gives you happiness. If you are happy, you tend to feel satisfied.

K – Key Performance Indicators

What are your personal KPI’s? Do you have any? Every individual has different goals in different spheres of their lives, whether at work or at home. How do you know when you’re on track or off-track?

By keeping a regular view of what’s important to you in order to advance your career, your relationships, your health or your finances you can begin to understand which areas of your life you need to invest time to improve.

As with any performance indicators, they should have target dates / measures and your should track your progress against them. Where you are falling short, you will need to put remedial action against them. As with your career plan, it is often useful to discuss these with someone you trust to keep you on track.

L – Learn More, Earn More

If you are looking to advance your career, get promoted or even just stay relevant in today’s job market you must be developing new skills all of the time. Many of those skills you will need to develop will be outside of your comfort zone. You need to stretch, take risks and sometimes fail!

Continuous learning is a must for anyone wanting to progress their career. The next few letters within this A to Z will give you some pointers on how to keep your knowledge and learning current and more importantly useful to progressing your career.

M – Mentor

Mentoring is a relationship between two people with the goal of professional and personal development. More professionals these days are actively pursuing mentoring to advance their careers. Whether you’re on the giving or receiving end, these types of partnerships can benefit your career.

A mentoring partnership may be between two people within the same organisation, same industry, same networking organisation or anyone whose professional opinion you value and have a good relationship with. However the partners come together, the relationship should be based on mutual trust and respect, and it typically offers personal and professional advantages for both parties.

A trusted mentor can help you do the following:

• Gain valuable advice – Mentors can offer valuable insight into what it takes to get ahead. They can be your guide and “sounding board” for ideas, helping you decide on the best course of action in difficult situations. You may learn short-cuts that help you work more effectively and avoid “reinventing the wheel.”

• Develop your knowledge and skills – They can help you identify the skills and expertise you need to succeed. They may teach you what you need to know, or advise you on where to go for the information you need.

• Improve your communication skills – Just like your mentor, you may also learn to communicate more effectively, which can further help you at work.

• Learn new perspectives – Again, you can learn new ways of thinking from your mentor, just as your mentor can learn from you.

• Build your network – Your mentor can offer an opportunity to expand your existing network of personal and professional contacts.

• Advance your career – A mentor helps you stay focused and on track in your career through advice, skills development, networking, and so on.

N – Network

Please see previous post on Networking – Business Networking – It’s not ‘what’ you know…

O – Opportunities

Opportunities are all around you, all of the time. So you need to be continually watching out for them. Get into the habit of looking for possible opportunities every day. Keep a notebook or digital recorder with you, or use a smartphone app like Evernote to note down opportunities when you think of them. Write down as many possible opportunities as you can – you can trim your list back to the most relevant opportunities later on.

You also need to make an effort to seek out “hidden” opportunities. These are opportunities like job openings that aren’t advertised, and projects that you can initiate because you have spotted an unfulfilled need within your organisation or industry.

Begin with your organisation. Keep an eye on current internal or upcoming vacancies, and on any plans for the organisation to expand or change direction. Also, think about how you could progress in the organisation from your current position – what paths are available to you?

It might be obvious which opportunity is best for you. If not, it can be useful to do a grid analysis to make a well-balanced decision. This technique works by getting you to list your options as rows on a table, and the factors that are important to you (such as fit with your strengths and interests) as columns.

You then score each option/factor combination, weight this score by the relative importance of the factor, and add these scores up to give an overall score for each option.

P – Politics without the Politics

Please see previous post – Playing Politics without the Politics

Q – Qualifications

Having the right qualifications for your chosen career will very often get you through the door for an interview. Depending on your particular field, and seniority in that field, you may require more or less vocational qualifications.

For any career, keeping your skills current and future-proofed should be an ongoing and important part of your development. In many cases, this may be ‘on the job’ learning and development, but many occupations also demand a level of qualification for you to even be considered to move to the next level. That being said, once you’re working in an organisation, it will very often be your attitude, work-rate, delivery and over-achievement that will count much more than qualifications for progression.

R – Read

According to a Harvard Business Review article last year, the leadership benefits of reading are wide-ranging. Evidence suggests reading can improve intelligence and lead to innovation and insight. Some studies have shown, for example, that reading makes you smarter through “a larger vocabulary and more world knowledge in addition to the abstract reasoning skills.” Reading — whether Wikipedia, Michael Lewis, or Aristotle — is one of the quickest ways to acquire and assimilate new information. Many business people claim that reading across fields is good for creativity. And leaders who can sample insights in other fields, such as sociology, the physical sciences, economics, or psychology, and apply them to their organizations are more likely to innovate and prosper.

Reading can also make you more effective in leading others. Reading increases verbal intelligence, making a leader a more adept and articulate communicator. Reading novels can improve empathy and understanding of social cues, allowing a leader to better work with and understand others — traits that author Anne Kreamer persuasively linked to increased organisational effectiveness, and to pay raises and promotions for the leaders who possessed these qualities. And any business person understands that heightened emotional intelligence will improve his or her leadership and management ability.

Using down-time during your day, you can increase your reading capacity enormously. There are a plethora of ways to access books on the move – Smartphones, tablet devices and audio books. I personally find that using my daily commute to listen to audio books means that I can get through 4 or 5 books per month.

S – Soft Skills

Aside from reading, attaining professional qualifications and ‘on-the-job’ training, it’s also worth investing time, effort and money in honing some of the softer skills, often untaught in schools and universities and expected in senior business positions. This sort of training falls into 2 broad categories, namely Self-Management and People Skills. I’ve listed below some of the skills within these broad headings that you may wish improve upon once you have a good understanding of your Strengths and Areas for Development under letter ‘U’ below.

Self-Management

  • Self-awareness
  • Self-confidence
  • Self-promotion
  • Time Management
  • Strategic Thinking
  • Problem Analysis & Solving
  • Working with others
  • Building Teams
  • Delegation

People Skills

  • Communication Skills
  • Presentation Skills
  • Interviewing techniques
  • Selling & Negotiation
  • People Management
  • Leadership
  • Stakeholder Management
  • Mentoring & Coaching

Getting this sort of training maybe freely available through your organisation, or via training companies or through local colleges. Be sure to get feedback on the course content and quality before you invest your valuable time, effort and money.

T – Treat Everyone with Respect

Albert Einstein said it best, I think:

“I speak to everyone in the same way, whether he is the garbage man or the president of the university.”

Respect is not only about how you talk to people. Human beings crave the respect of others; it’s in our DNA. When we feel like nobody respects us, it’s difficult for us to be positive and productive. When we don’t respect ourselves, we act in ways that our counter to our interests in an attempt to make ourselves feel better.

Cultivating self-respect and earning the respect of others goes a long way toward leading a balanced, healthy, happy life as well as improving your chances of career progression.

The 10 commandments of Respect according to Think Oak! All of which could be encompassed by – ‘Treat others as you would like to be treated’

  1. Act with integrity
  2. Display good manners
  3. Be punctual
  4. Actively listen when someone is talking to you
  5. Follow through on your promises
  6. Understand the impact that you might have on others – your ‘Shadow’
  7. Be compassionate
  8. Value the opinion of others
  9. Be appreciative
  10. Admit when you’re wrong

U – Understand your Strengths & Areas for Development

On the downloadable Think Oak! Career and Development Template, you will find two sections to complete around Strengths and Areas for Development.

Before you complete these sections, I’d like you to do two separate tasks:

  1. Write down all your Strengths and Areas for Development that you can think of. Refine these down to those you will really need to work on to achieve your OMG.
  2. Get some feedback. You may think you know who your are and what you need to do to achieve your goals, but you may find that trusted people in your network can help you tweak or even re-evaluate some of these.

Now, fill in your template.

V – Volunteer

Whether internally or externally, volunteer to do new things, especially if they’re not in your job description! Get involved in initiatives that your organisation is launching or volunteer in your local community. Getting involved in new initiatives or community activity has a number of benefits:

Internal:

Many organisations give people opportunities to get involved in projects that are outside of your job description whether that be Customer Experience Champions, Employee Representatives on committees or sponsors for particular projects. Whilst you shouldn’t allow these opportunities to prevent you from completing your objectives at work, they are a great opportunity for you to build you profile with people from around the organisation, learn new skills and widen your sphere of influence – assuming you do a good job and don’t just use it as an excuse to get away from your day job!

External:

If you’re considering a new or change of career, volunteering can help you get experience in your area of interest and help you meet people in the field. Even if you’re not planning on changing careers, volunteering gives you the opportunity to practice important skills used in the workplace, such as teamwork, communication, problem solving, project planning, task management, and people skills. You might feel more comfortable stretching your wings at work once you’ve honed these skills in a volunteer position first.

Volunteering also offers you the chance to try out a new career without making a long-term commitment. It is also a great way to gain experience in a new field. In some fields, you can volunteer directly at an organisation that does the kind of work you’re interested in. For example, if you’re interested in nursing, you could volunteer at a hospital or a nursing home. Your volunteer work might also expose you to professional organisations or internships that could be of benefit to your career.

Just because volunteer work is unpaid does not mean the skills you learn are basic. Many volunteering opportunities provide extensive training. For example, you could become an experienced crisis counsellor while volunteering at the Samaritans or gain NVQ’s towards teaching qualifications as a support teacher.

Volunteering can also help you build upon skills you already have and use them to benefit the greater community. For instance, if you hold a successful sales position, you raise awareness for your favourite cause as a volunteer advocate, while further developing and improving your public speaking, communication, and marketing skills.

W – Work – Life Balance

This is a tough one for ambitious, driven and career-minded people. It’s actually very easy to get to a point when you’re consistently working 12, 13, 14 or more hour days. For most people, it is physically not sustainable to continue to produce continued quality results working at this level. Something will give – your health, your marriage and family life, your relationships outside of work, your personal time or a combination of any or all of these. It is much better to work on your personal time management skills, your delegation of tasks and understanding what’s critical to your success than to burn yourself out. Believe me, I know from personal experience!

Work smarter, not harder. Don’t get me wrong  – You will need to put in an all-nighter occasionally, you will and should invest in entertaining customers or building your network outside of the 9-5, but you should equally invest time in yourself, your friends and family and for relaxation.

X – 10000 Hours of Mastery

X with a horizontal line above it, is the Roman numeral for 10,000 and Malcolm Gladwell in his great book, Outliers, states that 10,000 hours of practice is required to truly master a field in life, citing The Beatles, Bill Gates and others as examples.

In order to be the best at anything, you do need innate talent, but you also need to practice your craft and practice a great deal!

Hard work alone is not enough, however. Talent, passion and spotting as well as taking opportunities also matter.

Y – You are in charge

Your career progression is no-one else’s responsibility other than your own. You set the pace, you decide when to leave a job that you don’t enjoy, and ultimately you decide how much effort you want to invest in your future. With the right attitude, behaviours, skills, experience and support, you can achieve your goals. Take the next step today!

Z – Zeroes and how to add them to your salary

By acting upon this A to Z, you are already positioning yourself for success in your career. It is essential that you continue to work on your career plan. Review it each month and update your 30, 60 and 90 day plans accordingly. Continually look for opportunities and take seriously any that come your way. Whilst it is often easier to stay in your comfort zone, that isn’t the way to progress your career. You will need to take some risks. Some will pay off, others won’t, but you will learn from them!

I hope you enjoyed the A to Z of Career Progression. As always, would love to hear any feedback or thoughts you may have.

A to Z of Product Management

A to Z Product Management

Product management can be a complex and often misunderstood discipline in business. In reality Product Management in its broadest sense, touches every part of an organisation that sells products and services, and everyone has their part to play in the product life-cycle to ensure that customers get the best possible experience and your organisation benefits from growth and profitability.

In this A to Z I’ll be covering some key processes, tools and terminology to help you understand the world of Product Management.

A – Ansoff Matrix

Ansoff’s matrix is a useful 2 x 2 grid to help you determine your product and service strategies. Within each segment there is a differing level of risk. The four elements are:

Market penetration – This involves increasing market share within existing market segments. This can be achieved by selling more products/services to established customers or by finding new customers within existing markets.

Product development – This involves developing new products and services for existing markets. Product development involves thinking about how new products can meet customer needs more closely and outperform those of your competitors.

Market development – Finding new markets for existing products. Market research and further segmentation of markets helps to identify new groups of customers.

Diversification – Moving new products into new markets at the same time. It is the most risky strategy. The more an organisation moves away from what it has done in the past the more uncertainties are created. However, if existing activities are threatened, diversification helps to spread risk.

ansoff

B – Business Case

A key part of product management is development of compelling business cases. Without buy-in from senior management to engage resource, money and time, your product is not likely to become anything other than an idea. You need to convince decision makers in your organisation that your product has a market, that people will buy it, that you can sell it and that the return on investment will be more than if the money, time and resources were used elsewhere. Compelling business cases have the following ingredients:

  1. Executive Summary
  2. Strategic Fit
  3. Marketplace Analysis
  4. Product Description
  5. Go To Market plan
  6. Financial Analysis
  7. Operational Impacts
  8. Risks, Assumptions, Issues and Dependencies
  9. Project Plan

C – Customer Needs Analysis

Before any product is designed, developed and launched, it is crucial that you know what customer needs will be fulfilled by your product.

Understanding customer needs is not necessarily an easy task however. Unfortunately, determining the real needs of a potential customer is not as simple as asking them what they want. Many people are unable to clearly articulate their most pressing and compelling product or service requirements because determining how products could or should be improved is not forefront in their mind.

To learn what your customer really needs, you must watch them and talk with them. You must be sure you understand their concerns and overall business issues. Only by thoroughly understanding the broad environment your customer lives in on a day-to-day basis, as well as their specific and detailed issues and concerns, can you apply the creative efforts necessary to design a compelling solution that will be successful.

An approach starting to become more widespread in industry is to conduct in-depth customer research throughout product development and to treat potential customers as participants in the new product development process.

D – Definition Document

In order to develop the right product, everyone involved has to know what you’re developing.  The initial document that spells this out, or is at least supposed to, is a Proposition Definition document, or one with a similar name.  The intent of such a document is to define the features and functions of the product to be built.  At the early stage of a project, this is generally a fairly high-level definition, specifying in fairly broad terms what the product is and does, the types of customers that will use it and potential market size.  Its intent is to provide sufficient information for the requirements to be taken to the next level of specification.  When not done at all, a project will proceed with no real sense of direction.  When done poorly (which happens all too often), it gives only a vague sense of definition and/or direction, leaving what the product really is open to individual interpretation, which is dangerous when working in larger multifunctional teams.  When done reasonably, this document gives a clear definition to all of what the product is.  When done really well, it not only defines what the product is, but also what it isn’t.  By defining what a product isn’t as well as what it is, it prevents people from heading off-track in directions that were not intended.  All efforts should be made to provide a really excellent product definition document, clearly defining what the product is, and what the product is not.

This proposition definition document sets the foundation upon which the product will be based.  A firm foundation provides a stable platform to build upon; a flimsy foundation leads to a platform that can later collapse.  All key departments – Marketing, Product Management, Sales, engineering (including development, test/quality assurance, usability, performance, technical documentation, etc.), customer support, field engineering, business development, manufacturing, finance, and others should be involved to ensure their unique viewpoints are properly represented.

E – Evaluation Gates

During the product development process there should always be some evaluation gates where stakeholders are involved in evaluating progress and permission to proceed:

1. Idea screening

2. Concept screening

3. Business analysis

4. Product testing

5. Analysing test market result

6. After-launch assessment (Short term)

7. After-launch assessment (Long term)

Using these evaluation gates help product developments conform to strategic intent, stay on track and realise the intended customer, operational and financial benefits.

F – Forecasting

Forecasting sales of your new product is not an exact science, but I’ve highlighted below the methodology I’ve used in my career to build up a view before submitting a business case.

  1. Determine the total size of a desired market, which is called the total addressable market
  2. Decide what portion of that market the product can penetrate, or the attainable market share
  3. Work out the number of units or the volume that the sales team can commit to sell
  4. Calculate the number of units that can be produced / delivered
  5. Determine realistic pricing for the product and how that pricing will vary over time
  6. Translate the sales and demand forecast into a realistic budget for the product

G – Governance & Getting things done!

Aside from the New Product Introduction Process (See ‘N’) which will help in stage gating new products, it is hugely important that the senior management team are behind your product development and it’s priority in the organisation. Without this backing, you will spend a huge amount of time fighting for resource, agreeing priorities and re-agreeing them, and slowing your overall project down.

All product developments should also have a senior management sponsor and ideally a project manager (or at least someone on the team with that role) and regular project board meetings to keep the development on track and to expedite any issues. Ideally your key suppliers should be represented on the board.

Your key stakeholders need to be communicated to regularly with project updates, deviations to plan and escalations in order to keep momentum and deliver your new product on time, to quality and to budget.

H – Help Sales to Help You

Sales people are a great source of feedback during all stages of the product life-cycle. They’ll give you feedback on what customers are asking for, the barriers to them selling a particular product or service and also views on how they would like to be remunerated! Building strong relationships with sales people is always a good idea, but by involving them early in a new product development will get them on board and excited about your product way before you launch it. If they’re good, they’ll start talking to customers early and start building pipeline.

A note of caution: Don’t let your sales people start selling your new product until you are very clear and confident with your launch date! Customers get very annoyed when they’ve committed to buying something and the launch is delayed 6 months or longer.

I – Innovation

Innovation is rarely about solving an entirely new problem. More often it is solving an existing problem in a new way. Neither is innovation the sole domain of a product manager or senior management. Ideas can come from anywhere inside or outside of your organisation. The trick is to spot a good idea when it comes.

Many organisations have mechanisms for capturing, filtering and taking the best ideas to a ‘concept’ stage. Once an idea has been registered as having merit, resources are assigned to investigate the marketplace, the opportunity, the business and customer benefits, the likely costs, timeframes and resources required to develop the product.

J – Just In Time

In the 1970s, when Japanese manufacturing companies were trying to perfect their systems, Taiichi Ohno of Toyota developed a guiding philosophy for manufacturing that minimized waste and improved quality. Called Just In Time (JIT), this philosophy advocates a lean approach to production, and uses many tools to achieve this overall goal.

When items are ready just in time, they aren’t sitting idle and taking up space. This means that they aren’t costing you anything to hold onto them, and they’re not becoming obsolete or deteriorating. However, without the buffer of having items in stock, you must tightly control your manufacturing /logistics processes so that parts are ready when you need them.

When you do (and JIT helps you do this) you can be very responsive to customer orders – after all, you have no stake in “forcing” customers to have one particular product, just because you have a warehouse full of parts that need to be used up. And you have no stake in trying to persuade customers to take an obsolete model just because it’s sitting in stock.

The key benefits of JIT are:

• Low inventory

• Low wastage

• High quality production

• High customer responsiveness

K – Kaizen

Kaizen , or ‘Continuous Improvement’ is a policy of constantly introducing small incremental changes in a business in order to improve quality and/or efficiency. This approach assumes that employees are the best people to identify room for improvement, since they see the processes in action all the time. An organisation that uses this approach therefore has to have a culture that encourages and rewards employees for their contribution to the process.

Kaizen can operate at the level of an individual, or through Kaizen Groups or Quality Circles which are groups specifically brought together to identify potential improvements.

Key features of Kaizen:

• Improvements are based on many, small changes rather than the radical changes that might arise from Research and Development

• As the ideas come from the employees themselves, they are less likely to be radically different, and therefore easier to implement

• Small improvements are less likely to require major capital investment than major process changes

• The ideas come from the talents of the existing workforce, as opposed to using R&D, consultants or equipment – any of which could be very expensive

• All employees should continually be seeking ways to improve their own performance

• It helps encourage workers to take ownership for their work, and can help reinforce team working, thereby improving worker motivation

L – Launch

The launch of a product or service needs a GREAT PLAN:-

G – Go To Market Plan

R – Reference Customers

E – End to End testing

A – Advertising Materials

T – Trained Employees

P – Processes Documented

L – Legal Documentation

A – Approval from Stakeholders

N – No Go / Go Decision

M – Marketing Plan

See previous post on A to Z of Marketing

N – New Product Introduction Process

Key to development, launch, management and retiring of products is the New Product Introduction Process. There are many variations of this process, most centre around the following core steps:

NPI

O – Operational Processes

A key part of any product development is the creation of, or enhancement to, operational processes. It is crucial that and End to End process review is carried out for the new product or service and the department owners document, sign-off on and embed any changes to their ways of working.

In addition it is important to understand any changes to departmental KPI’s and headcount before launch and that everyone impacted by the product launch is trained to a sufficient level prior to launch.

Post launch, it is also important to invest some time in ensuring that any teething troubles are ironed out quickly and any tweaks to process are documented and people retrained where appropriate.

P – Proposition

The traditional marketing mix consists of four major elements, the “4-Ps of marketing”. As defined by Philip Kotler et al. (1999):

  1. Product: “Anything that can be offered to a market for attention, acquisition, use or consumption that might satisfy a want or need. In includes physical objects, services, persons, places, organisations and ideas.”
  2. Price: “The amount of money charged for a product or service, or the sum of the values that consumers exchange for the benefits of having or using the product or service.”
  3. Promotion: “Activities that communicate the product or service and its merits to target customers and persuade them to buy.”
  4. Place: “All the company activities that make the product or service available to target customers.”

All of these elements have their specific place in any company’s marketing strategy.

The 7-Ps of Services Marketing

In the context of services marketing, Booms and Bitner (1981) have therefore suggested an extended “7-Ps” approach that contains the following additional “Ps”:

  1. People: All people directly or indirectly involved in the consumption of a service, e.g. employees or customers.
  2. Process: Procedure, mechanisms and flow of activities by which services are consumed.
  3. Physical Environment: The environment in which the service is delivered. It also includes tangible goods that help to communicate and perform the service.

I would argue that all of these combine to become 1P, namely Proposition:

Proposition

Q – Qualitative and Quantitative Research

See previous A to Z of Marketing

R – Return on Investment and other measures

Knowing your numbers following the launch of a new product or service is crucial. I have listed some of the more common Key Performance indicators below, but you may have others:

Marketing Performance:

Number of leads generated via channel vs target

Cost per lead vs target

Leads converted to sales vs target

Cost per sale

Sales Performance:

Number of sales per channel

Number of sales cancellations per channel

Number of disconnections / leaving the service

% of pipeline converted to sales

Order Intake vs forecast and target

Operational Performance

Net Promoter Score

Number of Complaints

% of orders complete with SLA

Number of customer service / technical support calls vs forecast

Financial Performance

Monthly revenue vs forecast and budget

Monthly Gross Margin vs forecast and budget

Average Revenue Per User or Customer

Total Operating Costs

Return on Investment

S – SWOT

Before any product goes on the market, it’s advisable to carry out an effective market analysis known by the acronym SWOT – strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

Questions you should keep at the front of mind as you consider the SWOT for your new product:

  • What product/s are we selling?
  • What is the process we have in place to sell the product?
  • Who are the customers, who are the people interested in our product?
  • What ways can we deliver the product to the customers?
  • What are the finances needed to create and sell this product?
  • Who will oversee all the stages from having an idea, to having enough finance to complete the task?

Using a 2×2 grid and a selection of people from your organisation, really analyse where your Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats are for your market and in particular for your new product or service.

Prioritise them and ensure that any mitigations / activities are built into your plan. Ensure your strengths are clearly articulated in the proposition and opportunities acted upon.

T – Third Party Relationships

In most product developments, you will need to work with third parties to supply goods or services.

The process begins by selecting the right vendor for the right reasons. The vendor selection process can be a very complicated and emotional undertaking if you don’t know how to approach it from the very start. You will need to analyse your business requirements, search for prospective vendors, lead the team in selecting the winning vendor and successfully negotiate a contract while avoiding contract negotiation mistakes.

The most important success factor of managing 3rd party relationships is to share information and priorities with your vendors. That does not mean that you throw open the accounting books and give them access to your systems. Appropriate vendor management practices provide only the necessary information at the right time that will allow a vendor to better service your needs. This may include limited forecast information, new product launches, changes in design and expansion or relocation changes, to name a few.

Another important factor in building relationships with third parties is trust. Be as open as you can with them and if at all possible incorporate the third-party in you new product development team.

U – User Acceptance Testing

In an ideal world, all projects would allow adequate time for testing. Project teams would plan exhaustive testing for each piece of system functionality and if they ran out of time then they would drop functionality from a release rather than compromise on quality.

With business systems, it’s virtually impossible to test for every possible eventuality. We must therefore ask ourselves what is the most important functionality that must be tested within the available timeframe. The obvious answer is – the business functions that the system will deliver and on which the project justification is based.

User acceptance testing should be performed by business users to prove that a new system delivers what they are paying for. Business users have the knowledge and understanding of business requirements that IT testers do not have. They are uniquely placed to accept or reject the new system – after all they have to live with the consequences.

I would also argue that customer testing is also useful during stages of some product development so that areas such as usability and ease of purchase process as well as FAQ’s are meaningful and so on.

V – Value Chain Analysis

The term ‘Value Chain’ was used by Michael Porter in his book “Competitive Advantage: Creating and Sustaining Superior Performance” (1985). The value chain analysis describes the activities the organisation performs and links them to the organisations competitive position.

Value chain analysis describes the activities within and around an organisation, and relates them to an analysis of the competitive strength of the organisation. Therefore, it evaluates which value each particular activity adds to the organisation’s products or services. This idea was built upon the insight that an organisation is more than a random compilation of machinery, equipment, people and money. Only if these things are arranged into systems and systematic activates it will become possible to produce something for which customers are willing to pay a price. Porter argues that the ability to perform particular activities and to manage the linkages between these activities is a source of competitive advantage.

Value chain

In most industries, it is rather unusual that a single company performs all activities from product design, production of components, and final assembly to delivery to the final user by itself. Most often, organisations are elements of a value system or supply chain. Hence, value chain analysis should cover the whole value system in which the organisation operates.

A typical value chain analysis can be performed with the following steps:

  • Analysis of own value chain – which costs are related to every single activity
  • Analysis of customers value chains – how does our product fit into their value chain
  • Identification of potential cost advantages in comparison with competitors
  • Identification of potential value added for the customer – how can our product add value to the customers value chain (e.g. lower costs or higher performance) – where does the customer see such potential

W – Warranties, Service Levels, Terms and Conditions and Contracts

Whilst legal support should be always be sought when pulling together product conditions of service, it is essential that as the person leading a product development you have a clear view as to what the key conditions of service should be for your product or service. This area, depending on your industry, can be hugely complex and may end up being a critical path activity in your project plan, so it is key that you initiate this activity as soon as your proposition is fully defined.

X – X Functional Teams

Ok, I cheated. Cross-functional teams are key to the success of product management, probably more so than for any other business activity. Products cannot be developed successfully in isolation.

A highly effective cross-functional team includes representatives from across your organisation. Obviously, some people will be busier than others at certain stages in the process, but it’s important that you enrol the cross-functional team from the outset and keep them in the loop. Examples of represented areas in your organisation or even outside may be:

  • Project Management
  • Product Developers
  • Customer Service
  • Technical Support
  • Logistics
  • Information Technology
  • Marketing
  • Sales
  • Pre-Sales
  • Legal
  • Finance
  • Suppliers
  • And you should consider having a customer or two on your team!

They will be the champion for their department, bringing information from their function to the product team. They’ll also serve as a product champion, communicating back to their department on the product development and what impacts there’ll be back in the department.

Y – Yield Management

Yield management is the process of understanding, anticipating and influencing customer behaviour in order to maximise yield or profits from a fixed and/or perishable resource. Examples of industries where this needs to be thought about as part of product management are:

Airlines, Hotels, Rentals, Insurance, IT and Telecoms

The core concept of yield management is to provide the right service to the right customer at the right time for the right price. That concept involves careful definition of service, customer, time, and price.

Z – Zappos’ Values

Unless you’ve been living in a cave, you’ll have heard of Zappos. Zappos.com is an online shoe and apparel shop based in Henderson, Nevada. In July 2009, the company announced it would be acquired by Amazon.com in an all-stock deal worth about $1.2 billion. Since its founding in 1999, Zappos has grown to be the largest online shoe store in the world generating $2.1bn in sales in 2011

Zappos employees live by the following values, ones that the best product managers I’ve come across in my career live by too:

  1. Deliver WOW Through Service
  2. Embrace and Drive Change
  3. Create Fun and A Little Weirdness
  4. Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded
  5. Pursue Growth and Learning
  6. Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication
  7. Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit
  8. Do More With Less
  9. Be Passionate and Determined
  10. Be Humble

I hope you enjoyed this A to Z and would love to hear your Product Management stories and successes.

A to Z of Marketing

A to Z Marketing

The Chartered Institute of Marketing defines Marketing as “The management process responsible for identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer requirements profitably.”

I think I prefer Seth Godin’s description:

The art of telling a story to a customer that they want to hear, that lets them persuade themselves to buy something. Inherent to that story:

1. You have to have something they want. You must not force it on them.

2. You have to be authentic. Tell the truth.

3. Your story has to be so remarkable that people want to tell your story to others.

Whilst the principles of marketing have remained largely the same for some time, the execution, planning, tools and techniques have significantly evolved over recent years. In this A to Z, I’d like to cover some of the fundamentals of Marketing Strategy as well as touch upon some of the newer terms and techniques used in today’s marketing toolkit.

A – Advertising

Advertising is used to describe the whole creative process of communicating a message. This message can be about the social or commercial benefits or the characteristics of a particular product or service. Advertising has evolved into a vastly complex form of communication, with literally thousands of different ways for a business to get a message to a prospective customer. Examples include broadcast (e.g. TV & Radio), print (e.g. magazines and direct mail), outdoor (e.g. billboards and street furniture) and social media (e.g. facebook and twitter).

The process of advertising (or marketing communications) is used to acquire a customer, to keep the customer, and to satisfy the customer’s need (want or desire) for the particular product or service.

B – Brand

A brand is NOT a logo.

Perhaps brand expert Marty Neumeier said it best:

“A brand is not what you say it is. It’s what they say it is.”

A brand encompasses the sum total of how a business, product, or service is perceived by those who interact with it. For employees, it represents their pride in belonging. For suppliers, it governs how they optimise their operations to better serve us. And for customers, a brand is both their belief in who we are and a badge they wear that communicates something about who they are.

For marketers especially, they are ambassadors for the brand and therefore your marketing strategy must stay loyal to your brand, its values and its vision.

C – Customers

Customers should be at the heart of any Marketing Strategy for any organisation. Their characteristics will vary depending on your marketplace, products and services but you ignore them, their needs and their behaviours at your peril. Having a deep understanding of your customer will be at the heart of success of your Marketing Strategy.

We’ll cover a few areas of customer understanding in this A-Z because it is so important, but two specific piece of advice I would give above all others are:

  1. Talk to customers – As many of them as you can, as often as you can, as early as you can. Don’t just trust your marketing strategy and its effectiveness to what Gartner or CFI may say (that insight is useful though!) or what a marketing agency may say alone. Talk to customers or prospects about their business, or their personal circumstances; what their challenges area and what’s important to them.
  2. Put on your customer glasses – Look at all your customer touchpoints from your customers’ perspective. How would you like to receive information about a new product or service? How would you like to be billed and when? Would you expect to be able to get in contact with a business 24/7? Would you like to buy online or have someone call you or make a visit? And so on. You’d be surprised at how many businesses do things for their own convenience and not that of their customers!

D – Data

Data will make or break your Marketing Strategy and execution. Do you know who your customers are? Do you know what they buy from you, when, how often and why? Do you know what they’re saying about you and where? How happy are your customers and are they recommending you to friends, colleagues or their contacts? What products or services would they like to buy from you in the future?

I would hope you could answer most of these questions, but many companies struggle. Data collection, quality and analysis should form a key part of any business process and getting a single view of your customers in one place is critical.

E – Everything ‘E

Even if your business is traditionally offline, you should actively consider what your online presence needs to be in the future. You also need to consider how much you have to invest in your online presence, what technologies you will need to use and also whether you have the skills in-house to achieve what your strategy dictates. The good news is that there are plenty of really good technology providers and online marketing agencies that can help you, as well as plenty of online cheap resources that you can tap into.

Keep a look out for future posts on Everything ‘E’

F – Focus Groups

Focus groups can be an important and really useful tool for getting feedback regarding new products, packaging, names or new services before they are made available to the public. Focus groups can provide invaluable information about the potential market acceptance of the product or service.

Focus groups are normally conducted by a trained moderator among a small group of respondents which could be prospective customers, actual customers, a combination of the two as well as cross sections from across your marketplaces. The session is normally conducted in an unstructured and natural way where respondents are free to give views from any aspect.

They are normally recorded and attendees are often paid in some way for attendance.

Top Tips:-

  1. Attend the session yourself if you can – purpose-built focus group venues often have secondary rooms where you can view the sessions live. By attending yourself, you not only get the see the session and get feedback immediately, you can tweak questioning and throw in ideas during a break in the session to get more out of them.
  2. If you can’t attend, watch the audio / video in full. Sometimes well-meaning agencies / staff will distil feedback that will distort the message coming back from the group. I’ve often found discrepancies in feedback in my experience.
  3. Focus groups are often expensive and time-consuming to run, and therefore you may not run many at any one time and therefore the sample size is small. You should be cognisant of this and be careful not jump to conclusions if one or two people like / dislike a particular idea /feature / price point etc.
  4. Lastly, DO listen. Even if it was your idea and you ‘know’ it’s a good one, if 80% of your focus group don’t like it….don’t do it! I’ve known some stubborn product managers, business owners and senior managers that didn’t listen, went ahead anyway and reaped the appropriate reward!

G – Guerrilla Marketing

Guerrilla marketing “works because it’s simple to understand, easy to implement and outrageously inexpensive,” says Jay Conrad Levinson, the man who coined the phrase.

Consumers have grown immune to big budget advertising, but marketers that expend a bit of time, effort and creativity can generate effective results with inexpensive, small-scale stunts.

There are some great and some extremely cost-effective as well as expensive examples here

H – Hits, Likes, Shares and Followers

Social Media is increasingly becoming more important for marketing in organisations of all sizes and segments. Whether for brand awareness, tracking customer perceptions, driving sales leads or simply to have more conversations with your customers Social Media is here to stay for a good time to come. The important thing to decide is what are you going to use it for, why and how and with what resource?

Please see the following previous Think Oak posts for more information:

A to Z of Business Social Media

The New SMS – Social Media Strategy

I – Internal Marketing

In medium to large businesses Internal Marketing becomes much more crucial to the success of achieving your marketing and organisational goals. Effectively engaging employees in your Vision, Strategy and Goals can have a significant positive impact on sales and profitability as well as the emotional well-being of your people.

A previous post Communicate or Fail will give you a few pointers.

J – Joined up

Joined-up marketing is all about recognising the different ways people interact with your brand. It’s also about putting in place collateral at each of these touchpoints which work together to deliver the right level of engagement and – of course – sales.

Most marketing campaigns and certainly overall strategies these days are not simply delivered via one marketing channel. A mix of online and offline activity is used to get the most impact for your brand.

There are a couple of pitfalls I’ve come across in my career from a marketing strategy execution perspective that I would urge you to think about as part of your marketing planning:

  1. Ensure that all your front line people understand your marketing plan, activity and messaging. Your front line people need to know that the phones are going to start ringing and what offers and products are being promoted PLUS they need to be trained on what to expect from customers in the way of questions.
  2. If you have commissioned sales people, either direct, telesales or via another channel, you need to ensure that they are ‘motivated’ to sell that product or service, both financially and that they know how to sell it.

K – KPIs

Any Marketing Strategy must lay out and actively monitor and manage key performance indicators (KPI’s).

Below are some suggested must have metrics to measure whatever your marketing strategy is:

1.      Return on Investment (ROI)

This KPI is the single most important KPI for your marketing team to monitor. It provides an honest assessment of your performance so you know which campaigns are generating revenue.

2.      Incremental Sales

This KPI is closely related to ROI and measures the contribution your marketing efforts make to sales. This KPI emphasises the importance of monitoring the effectiveness of each of your campaigns – top marketers meticulously measure each lead, win, and failure that results from their campaign. To formulate this KPI, you need to establish baseline sales and clearly define which channels your marketing efforts are going to affect.

3.      Cost per Lead

This KPI puts the focus on the effectiveness of your campaign at generating leads for each pound / dollar / euro spent. This helps to keep your marketing activities in perspective. Even if you have a pet project that you are particularly attached to, the numbers will not lie. If a campaign isn’t panning out, you need to be prepared to go back to the drawing board.

4.      Conversion Rates

These types of metrics are important because they provide a benchmark for gauging a campaign’s success through to a sale and help you understand where, if anywhere, you are losing sales. As important as it is to monitor your ability to convert visits to leads, you should also measure what leads turn into wins (and what channel they came through). This will help tell you which channels resonate with people ready to make a purchase.

5.      Online / Social Media Reach and Engagement

Whilst some social media activity is connected to customer service and brand building, you do need to demonstrate value for the effort and resource you are investing into social media. Capture the growth in reach and engagement (likes, comments, retweets, shares, etc) for all channels each month, then get to the bottom line.

# Lead Conversions assisted by each social media channel

# Customer Conversions assisted by each social media channel

# Traffic associated with social media channels

L – Lessons Learned

I’ve found that as part of building any strategy, it’s useful to openly review successes and failures from the past, not only from within your business or your market, but from other industries. What can you take from these that you can learn and build upon for your strategy. This should be an ongoing process throughout the life-cycle of your strategy anyway, but as a minimum should be done as part of your strategic planning process.

M – Marketplace Analysis

As part of any Marketing Strategy and its delivery you need a deep understanding of the following areas:

Market Size – Current and Future

Market Growth Rate

Market Trends – Historic and Future

Market Profitability

Customer Segmentation

Competitor Review

I will be covering these areas in much more detail in future Think Oak! posts.

N – Net Promoter Score

Net Promoter Score (NPS) is used by many of today’s top businesses to monitor and manage customer relationships. It is a useful measure of the likelihood of successful WOM (Word of Mouth / Word of Mouse) of your customer base. I would argue that it is only one measure of customer satisfaction that you should be measuring, as by itself does not give you the breadth of detail you’ll need to address any issues that arise.

NPS is calculated from a single loyalty question, “How likely is it that you would recommend this company to your friend or colleague?” Based on their rating of this question using a 0 to 10 likelihood scale where 0 means “not at all likely” and 10 means “extremely likely,” customers are segmented into three groups:

Detractors (ratings of 0 to 6)

Passives (ratings of 7 and 8)

Promoters (ratings of 9 and 10)

A company can calculate its Net Promoter Score by simply subtracting the proportion of Detractors from the proportion of Promoters.

A successful Net Promoter program includes several factors that work together. Although NPS is useful, the most prevalent cause of failure in Net Promoter programs is the inability of the organisation to go beyond the metric and build out a complete operational model with NPS as its centerpiece. The breakthrough in Net Promoter comes from shifting the entire program from a research model to an operational model and embedding it in the business.

O – Organic Growth

Organic growth means expanding your business and increasing turnover by carrying on doing what you’re doing, rather than through acquisitions (buying other businesses) or through moving into new markets. You might move into a new geographic region or use a new sales channel, but you’re still using your original business model. You don’t force growth with outside investment and the rate of growth is more natural – hence the name organic.

As part of your marketing strategy it’s key to understand how you want to grow your business and which growth strategy you’re pursuing. It’s not easy to do more than one at once, without a great deal of 100% focussed resource working on each.

P – Planning

An output of your marketing strategy will be your marketing plan. If your strategy is the what, where and why, the plan is the how, who and when!

Your marketing plan outlines specific actions that you will take to market your product or service potential customers. These actions work to persuade these potential customers to purchase your products or services.

Your marketing plan does not need to be long and it doesn’t have to cost a lot of money to complete. Marketing plans can be a part of your overall business plan or as a singular document. If you think of it as your “roadmap” that will provide you with detailed directions on how to reach your marketing goals.

Top Tips:

  1. Ensure that each element of the plan has a clear budget, targets for leads, sales and other outcomes as well as a clear timeline of what is to happen when.
  2. Understand how your marketing plans and their outcomes match your overall marketing budget, and forecasted revenues and sales.
  3. Have some plan B’s and C’s – What will you do if you don’t generate enough leads and therefore sales as part of your plan?
  4. Depending on your businesses markets, products and services you may have very different sales cycles. You need to have a clear understanding of these in order to work on your plan and your targets.

Q – Qualitative and Quantitative Research

Simplistically, research can be quantitative or qualitative:

  • Quantitative research provides statistical information – for example, how many potential customers there are and what their average incomes are
  • Qualitative research examines people’s feelings and attitudes towards your brand, product or service, and what motivates them

The traditional boundaries between qualitative and quantitative research are beginning to blur. This is occurring as marketing research moves away from a mass-market orientation into an era of ever more precisely targeted niche markets, particularly business and professional markets.

Increased interest in marketing to small niche markets, particularly among business and professional markets has created new opportunities for survey researchers and businesses to include qualitative components to their quantitative research.

I would argue that a key part of your marketing strategy, should be to capture both types of data as part of your business as usual activity so that you can continually monitor sentiment to your organisation and its services.

R – Relationship Marketing

Relationship marketing is all about developing long-term relationships with customers so that they provide you with ongoing business. An organisation must meet customer satisfaction expectations consistently to retain and develop long-term trust and relationships with customers. Traditional transactional marketing used to focus on attracting customers for one-time sales rather than repeat business. It takes a lot of work to persuade customers to make their first purchase with you, but if you can persuade customers to give you repeat business it will cost you less money and time…and build Word of Mouth and in today’s world of social media, Word of Mouse.

Not all business relationships are created equal however. Some customers generate huge revenues without much work on your part. Others make you feel like you’re squeezing water from a stone, and require enormous nurturing and work to extract even a small amount of value. You will be much more successful when you learn to evaluate different types of business relationships, and then focus effectively on those that offer the highest potential.

S – Sales

Marketing is everything that you do to reach and persuade prospects. The sales process is everything that you do to close the sale and get a signed agreement or contract. Both are necessities to the success of a business. You cannot do without either process. By strategically combining both efforts you will experience a successful amount of business growth. However, by the same token if the efforts are unbalanced it can curtail your growth.

I’m referring particularly here where you have telesales or field sales people in your organisation (or outsourced to a third-party).

Marketing has increasingly become about creating and maintaining conversations with customers. There has been a shift from talking at people, to talking to people. This just so happens to be sales peoples’ area of expertise!

A key part of your marketing strategy should include the answers to some of the following questions:

1. Is there a gap between what’s being marketed and what’s being sold? What is it and why?

2. Are the leads you deliver to the sales team of high enough quality to be converted?

3. What has the Sales team learned after a successful, and unsuccessful campaigns? How can this information better prepare your strategy going forward?

4. What information can marketing provide Sales to better complete a prospective customer profile?

5. Have you created a system to ensure continuous feedback between both sales and marketing?

T – Testing

Unless you have an unlimited budget, and you don’t, a key strand of a successful marketing strategy is testing.

Before you invest 20% of your marketing budget on putting an advert in big national newspapers for one day in the year, you may want to test whether the types of customers you wish to attract will a) see the advert, b) read the advert, c) do anything about it.

By testing your market and customer segments using different creative and media, you will be able to get a better view as to what attracts leads to your organisation and what doesn’t. More importantly you need to find out whether those leads convert to sales. It may be that some content may drive significant volumes of calls into your sales teams, that because of the marketing execution, do not convert to new business. Invest small amounts of your budget into new marketing initiatives to test their effectiveness with your prospects – It’s worth it!

U – USP – Unique Selling Proposition

Before you can begin to sell your product or service to anyone else, you have to know what differentiates your product / service from that of your competitors. This is especially important when your product or service is similar to those around you. Very few businesses are one-of-a-kind. Just look around you: How many clothing retailers, air conditioning installers, marketing agencies or supermarkets are truly unique?

The key to effective selling in this situation is what marketing professionals call a “unique selling proposition” (USP). Unless you can pinpoint what makes your business unique in a world of similar competitors, you cannot target your sales efforts successfully.

One way to start finding your USP is to analyse how other companies use their USPs to their advantage. This requires careful analysis of other companies’ marketing messages. If you analyse what they say they sell, not just their product or service characteristics, you can learn a great deal about how companies distinguish themselves from competitors.

Top Tips:

  1. Put your customer spectacles on again! – What do your customers really want?
  2. Know what motivates your customers’ behaviour and buying decisions
  3. What are the real reasons customers buy your product instead of a competitor’s

V – Value Proposition

Now you know your USP, you need to think about how you put that to your prospects – Your Value Proposition. A value proposition is a short statement that tells your prospect why they should buy from your company. It is focused on outcomes. Your value proposition distils all the complexity of the value you provide into something that your prospective customers can easily grasp and remember. This helps spread word-of-mouth marketing and it differentiates you from the competition.

Regardless of the size of your organisation or the type of industry you are in, you should have a value proposition. To help you, here are some guidelines to follow in creating one. A strong value proposition does the following:

  • Creates interest, so that your prospects ask questions and want to learn more.
  • Differentiates your offer from your competitors’ offers
  • Increases the quantity and quality of your sales leads and makes conversion to a customer much easier
  • Wins your business greater market share in your targeted segments
  • Aligns your business operations more closely to customer needs
  • Focuses on your customers’ perspective

A good value proposition includes demonstrated results that will catch the attention of decision-makers – results like increased revenues, decreased costs, improved operational efficiency and so on.

W – Website

Business websites still beat social marketing as a more successful digital marketing method, according to a recent Gartner survey.

A web-site is still a hugely important part of the marketing mix and marketing strategy for the majority of businesses. You should also consider your web presence for mobile devices also, as recent figures suggest that mobile users are more likely to buy if your site is mobile optimised, and more likely to leave immediately if it’s not.

No matter how popular Facebook gets, or how much traffic Pinterest generates, people still turn to Google (and to a lesser degree, Bing,) to find suppliers. Additionally, if you generate a good proportion of your business locally, you really need to step up your local search engine optimisation.

Keep your content fresh, informative and above all make it easy to find information and to buy – it may seem obvious, but you’d be amazed at even the largest businesses that don’t refresh their content more than twice a year!

Digital marketing is expected to grow significantly in importance over the next couple of years according to Gartner with 75% of respondents said it will be very important one year from now, as opposed to 48% who reported it is very important today. And almost 90% of respondents said it will be very important in two years.

X – X, Y & Z Generations

Each generation has unique expectations, experiences, generational history, lifestyles, values, and demographics that influence their buying behaviours. Accordingly, many companies are reaching out to multi-generational consumers and trying to understand and gain the attention of these diverse buyers. Multi-generational marketing is the practice of appealing to the unique needs and behaviours of individuals within more than one specific generational group, with a generation being a group of individuals born and living about the same time.

Generation X was born during 1965-1977 and are in the 36-48 age range

Generation Y was born during 1977-1994 and are in the 19-36 age range

Generation Z was born after 1994 and are less than 19 years old

Depending on your marketplace, generational considerations should be made as well as demographic or vertical ones!

Y – Yesterday’s News

The headlines have been full of business failures over the last 12-24 months. Some very big companies have collapsed because of their lack of marketing vision, strategy and execution. Do not become one of them because of a lack of thought and planning. Invest heavily in your strategy, listen to your customers and learn quickly from executional failures.

Z – Zoom

By Zoom, I mean injecting pace into your marketing strategy and execution. Pace in marketing is more essential today than at any time. In order to move at the pace of the digital and social era, marketing teams must move at blazing speeds. Technology has created a quantum leap in how fast we receive customer feedback, campaign results, and questions from the CEO. Companies that complete rapid cycles of test, execute, learn, and optimise gain competitive advantage. The definition of success is increasingly speed based and you need to keep up!

Quite a lengthy post, so hope you managed to reach the end and got something useful from it! As ever, I’d love to hear from you and get feedback on the post. Until next time.

A to Z of Direct Selling

Direct Sales, Direct Selling

Selling is at the heart of business, even if you’re not in ‘Sales’.

Think about the following scenarios:

  •        You’re trying to convince your manager to develop a new product, but can’t get him or her to take things further
  •        You’d like to introduce a new system into your team but can’t get people’s support
  •        You’re trying to convince a new person to join your organisation
  •        You need to get a business case written and signed-off but need help from a number of people as well as sign-off by your boss

Are all of these not selling something?

Whether you’re in a traditional sales role or not, it’s good to know some sales techniques. Knowing how to sell is a great ability to have, and it’s one that’s sure to be respected strongly within your organisation. And if you’re not in a ‘selling’ role, having some knowledge of the challenges faced in sales, may help you to build stronger relationships with people who are! Whilst this post will focus on selling in the field, many of these methods can be used to ‘sell’ internally within your organisation too.

A – Ask the Right Questions

Throughout a sales relationship with a customer and even before engaging with a prospective customer you need to ask yourself and the customer the right questions.

Too many people assume that they fully understand their prospects’ problems. You need to ask questions at the right time about the right things in order to get the information you need to make the sale, or else you might lose credibility and lose the sale forever.

B – Benefit Selling

Having spent my career in technology companies, I know from personal experience that technologists, including technology sales and marketing people, love to talk about features and the latest advancement in a particular product area. That’s great if your customer loves technology and knows what all the features can do for them, but very often you’re not selling to these kind of customers.

What tangible benefits does your product or service bring to the customer and her business? Will it make them more productive, and if so, how? Will it save them money over their current product or service, and if so, how much? Will it give them a competitive advantage over their competitors, and if so, why? Will your product or service de-risk their business in some way or help them sell more, make more, or use less? If so, why and by how much? The more specific and tailored you can be in your answers to these questions with the customer, the better chance you have of getting a sale.

C – Closing the Sale

Closing the sale is obviously one of the most important parts of selling. Without going into every technique on how to close, I would say that you should think about the following:

You do need to ask for the sale! I’m amazed at the number of sales people I’ve interviewed that haven’t asked me for the job – the sale. They didn’t get a second interview.

Always have your closing materials with you – not having the relevant ‘paperwork’ ready does two things; it tells the customer you’re not prepared and it gives them an opportunity to change her mind.

Be prepared to counter objections with reasoned and tailored responses

If you’ve ‘opened’ the sale well, spent a lot of time, energy and mental agility on learning the precise nature of the customer’s needs and their ability to pay for it, and if you’ve crafted a proposal that matched those precisely, then the close will be much easier.

D – Demonstrations

When done well, demonstrations of your product and service to customers can be extremely effective in moving them to a different stage of the sales cycle and ultimately a sale. Demonstrations act as an explanation of what your product is or does, proof that it works and is effective and relevant to your customer and can motivate them to want it after seeing it in action or using it. They can take many forms depending on what you’re actually selling.

Examples might be:

A case study or white paper on the use of your product or service

A face to face, online or video demonstration of your product in action

Try before you buy experiences – in the home, at a supermarket or a car showroom

A simulator or virtual walk-through

Two top tips:

  1. Test everything at least twice on your demonstration before you’re in front of the customer
  2. Have a back-up plan in case it doesn’t work!

E – Expert Advice

Customers want to feel that they’re buying from someone who knows what they’re talking about or at least that you can bring in the right subject matter experts if the solution you’re selling is a complex one.

F – Forecasting

A key part of a sales person’s role is the ability to forecast their sales regularly so that the business supporting them can plan in advance for:

Stock / resource availability

Gearing up production – placing demand on suppliers/production to ensure supply

Allows marketing to ramp up or down marketing activity, or shift their messaging

Gives management a view on whether budgeted growth is being met and whether further remedial action will be required to meet any under / over-performance

G – Getting Your Foot in the Door

You can’t make a sale until you at least get ‘your foot in the door’. How do you get noticed in a positive way by a potential customer so that you don’t get your metaphorical or actual foot crushed by the door closing firmly on it?

Knocking down doors is a hard business, especially in a difficult marketplace.  If your company’s marketing department isn’t driving leads for you then you have to do it yourself. Here’s some tips:

Who are your target customers and why?

Research the customers you’re targeting – Who are the decision makers? Have they been in the business news? How are they doing financially? Have they had any recent successes?

Build and use your business network to drive introductions to the right decision makers.

Have a strategy as to what will grab the interest of these customers and tailor your approach accordingly.

Don’t give up. Even if you get knock-backs, be persistent, be professional and focussed.

H – Help the Customer

Often-times the customer doesn’t actually know what the best product or service is to suit their needs. They know they have a problem that needs a solution and maybe an understanding of the direction they need to take, but not a thorough worked through list of detailed requirements, especially for a complex problem or solution. Through a process of listening, asking the right questions and collective knowledge you can point the customer in the right direction.

I – Investigate Thoroughly

Whether it’s prior to engaging a new customer or during the sales cycle, it’s important to know as much as you can about a sale, a prospective customer, an existing customer, your competitors and innovations in your marketplace. Being armed with all of this information will put you on the front in conversations both with your customers and internally when you need to fight for resource or help.

J – Juggling Balls

Sales professionals, especially successful ones, need to be extremely organised and have the ability to juggle a number of balls at any one time. They need to be managing their pipeline of sales (more on that later), writing proposals, building target lists of prospects, re-signing existing customers, and often dealing with customer queries and pricing requests. They also need to be on top of their marketplace, maintain their knowledge on new products and services as well as keeping an eye on the competition.

K – Knowledgeable

Great sales people are sponges for knowledge. Constantly looking for opportunities, they keep an eye on their market, the latest trends and build up enough knowledge about key vertical sectors and their customers so that they can converse knowledgeably on a range of topics.

L – Listening

Listening is a core competency for anyone wanting to get ahead in business, but no more so than sales. Great sales people listen intently for buying signals, doubt, time-wasting and potential barriers to a sale. By listening for the said and the unsaid, a  great sales person uses their two ears and one mouth in the right proportions.

M – Motivation

Self-motivation is a crucial skill in sales. When the going gets tough a sales person needs to dig deep and find the energy to keep motivated and keep focussed on their target. In sales you often get more knock backs than sales and it’s important that you find ways to be able to bounce back and keep going.

N – Networking

Networking is massively important for a sales person – offline and online. If you want to be really successful in sales, you have to make time, often out of normal working hours to build your network. If you want further information on see a previous post – Business Networking – It’s not ‘what’ you know…

O – Objection Handling

In sales you will always have to handle objections throughout the sales cycle. One very effective way to deal with objections is to pre-empt them as part of your discussions. If you have done your homework, you will be aware of the four or five concerns that your prospect may have so you can incorporate them into your presentations and discussions. This can be effective at promoting you and your organisation in a professional manner. Rather than operate a head in the sand approach, you tackle these reasonable concerns as part of your pitch coming from a position of strength and demonstrating that you do not run from the hard questions.

Here’s a four step approach in dealing with objections:

  1. Ensure that you make the prospect aware that you understand where they are coming from and their concern is not unreasonable
  2. Qualify the objection, so that you understand exactly what the objections is
  3. Sell the business benefits again, taking into account their objection. Be aware that your approach first time round didn’t quite work so you will at least have to expand and take different angles to re-enforce the point
  4. Ask them if they are happy and understand what you said and that you have been able to relieve their concern

P – Pipeline

Managing your pipeline effectively is hugely important, not only for you, the sales person, but for your management team and the wider business.

A sales pipeline works by placing all leads or prospects at the different stages of the sales cycle, and then measuring their progress through the pipeline, from unqualified lead to satisfied repeat customer. If you use a tool such as Salesforce.com or Goldmine, you can manipulate and analyse your pipeline quickly and easily, if you’ve kept it up-to-date, to report upwards and help you plan your activity for the days, weeks and months ahead.

Q – Qualifying

Qualifying is the art of determining what the customer needs and therefore wants, when they want it, whether they can afford to buy it and whether they’re holding the purse strings. A simple 5 step process should give you some of that key guidance – PACTS:

  1. Product Need – What need is the customer trying to fulfil and will your product or service meet that need? It pays for both sides to be honest at this stage, so neither of you are wasting your time.
  2. Authority – The decision maker is ideally who you have to qualify. If you are not talking to that person,you can capture the rest of the information and get in front of the decision maker as soon as possible.
  3. Cash – Can the prospect afford to buy your product or service? If there are no major issues they will gladly answer and back it all up, easing any worries that may be present.
  4. Timing – When does the customer require your service or product? Business situations can change quickly and your prospect may be interested to get an offer in now, but be straight with them and ask if the timing is right and ask them the likely hood of requirements changing. Looking out for the customer is important to build a good relationship, getting all of the possible time constraints out in the open will help with the final decision.
  5. Stakeholders – Who are the key stakeholders you need to influence to get the sale? It may be that there are a number of people you will need to influence before you will get a decision.

R – Relationships

Having strong relationships with customers is really important for a number of reasons, and yes one of them is to sell more. But having a good relationship also reduces a customer’s tendency to move somewhere else, allows you to learn more about their business and their marketplace, open up their network to yours through introductions and recommendation, and in one or two cases you may build up strong and lasting personal relationships which is always a great thing!

S – Solution Selling

Solution selling has been a buzz term for a couple of decades now, if not longer. It is predicated on discovering customer needs and aligning your solution to those needs. Sales people show customers how their solution better meets their needs than any competitor solution through a process of questioning and exploration. However, I think there is a shift happening in certain segments of the market, as customers become more informed via the web and their social networks. Customers are more aware of their needs and the kinds of solutions available probably more than at any other time. Selling a solution is still important, but it has to be outcome focussed, and potentially you may need to put some ‘skin in the game’ to close the sale. How confident are you in your service levels? How confident are you in the savings you’ve promised? Are you willing to put that to the test with Service Level Guarantees or revenue share on savings?

T – Trust

The number one attribute of a great sales person is trust. If you cannot be trusted within your organisation you’re not likely to last long.

What do I mean by this?  – If you continually over-promise customers things as part of your solution in order to close the deal, you’re going to disappoint or lose the customer when your internal teams can’t meet those requirements either to time, or to budget, or at all. You’re going also going to upset the customer, possibly enough for them to go elsewhere or at best not want to buy anything from you for a while, if at all.

U – Understand Who are the Influencers and Decision Makers

When you’re selling into larger organisations you really need to invest time and energy in finding out who all the key influencers and decision makers are for that prospect. You need to be aware that some of those influencers may not even work in that organisation. Who does your decision maker play golf with – do you know her? Do you know any of the senior people in the organisation through people in your business or social network? Getting the inside track on the people you need to meet and influence, could save you months in a long sales cycle.

V – Value from the Customer Perspective

I have mentioned this indirectly a couple of times within this post and it’s not by accident. Throughout the whole sales cycle from lead to close you need to be thinking about and talking about what value you’re bringing to the customer. If there are multiple influencers and decision makers in the loop, you’ll need to think about their individual ‘hot buttons’ and press them. The Finance Director will be wanting the best deal, for the lowest price with the best payment terms. The Marketing Director will be wondering how this will help her drive more leads of her own. The Managing Director will want both of those things, but also peace of mind that once the deal is done, the solution will go in smoothly, that her business won’t be affected in any way to the negative and that she has the phone number of your bosses boss, should anything go wrong.

W – Wining & Dining

Hospitality is still a big part of sales, but you need to ensure that you are mindful of the relevant bribery acts in your country and the bribery and hospitality policies of your prospective and existing clients. That said, spending quality time with customers, new and old, in an informal setting over dinner, watching the big game or race is a great way to strengthen relationships, build new relationships and have some fun.

X – X Marks the Spot – Getting the Contracts Signed

The deal is NEVER done until you have the proverbial signature next to the ‘X’ on the contract. Many times in my career have I been told that the deal was done, only to find that the contract was sitting with lawyers for 6 months, or the customer changed their mind, or they actually awarded the contract to someone else. You haven’t closed, until the contract is signed (plus any cooling off period if that applies).

Y – You are a Differentiator

As a sales person, you are representing your organisation’s brand probably more often more than anyone else. You can be THE differentiator between a win and a loss, a loyal customer and an angry customer, success or failure. Something to think about!

You need to come across as being confident in yourself and your abilities. To be truly successful in sales, it’s also really important that you have a firm belief in the products and services you’re selling as well as the brand you’re representing. A customer can see right through a sales person that doesn’t!

Z – Zone of Influence

As a sales person, the more you interact within your customers, the more time that you invest in  your business and social media networks, assuming you’re doing all the right things, the more your zone of influence will increase. I’ll leave you with a personal story that I hope will resonate with you. I remember attending a networking event, when I was new into a role, and looked out upon a sea of unfamiliar faces, except that of a competitor. That competitor knew everyone in the room by their first name. Let’s just say that since that time, I’ve made it my business to  network and build my zone of influence!

I hope you enjoyed this A-Z and as ever, would love to hear your views and feedback.

A to Z of Employability

A to Z Employability

I often get asked by teachers, lecturers and students what are the key skills and qualities that businesses are looking for in young people leaving full-time education for a career in business. In this A – Z I’d like to give some pointers on the very important topic of Employability. I would suggest that there are some people already in business, who are looking to progress their career that could also enhance their skills in some of these areas covered in this post.

A – Attitude

A positive attitude is the key foundation for employability – this can be summed up as a ‘can-do’ approach, a readiness to take part and contribute, openness to new ideas and a drive to make those ideas happen.

B – Behaviours

I’ve listed below some of the key behaviours I would expect to see in any of my employees:

Being courteous and having good manners

Being punctual for meetings

Generous listening of others

Honesty – always be up front

C – Commitment

If you commit to something, then follow through with it. If you do what you say you’ll do, and consistently, you will quickly be recognised as someone who can be trusted to get the job done.

D – Digitally Literate

The nature of knowledge is changing and, in this digital age, our definition of basic literacy urgently needs expanding. With an estimated 90% of UK jobs requiring some level of IT competency, the notion of digital literacy – those capabilities that equip an individual for living, learning and working in a digital society – is one that needs to be taken seriously by schools, colleges and universities. In fact, 16 million people in the UK aged 15 and over still don’t have basic on-line Skills.

Examples of Digital Literacy:

  • Understanding how to use web browsers, search engines, email, text, wiki, desktop publishing, and office software such as spreadsheets, word processors, presentation suites and databases.
  • The ability to evaluate on-line resources for accuracy/trustworthiness of information.
  • Understanding of social media and on-line etiquette
  • Ability to use basic hardware such as projectors, electronic whiteboards, printers and so on.

E – Enthusiastic

Whether you are just starting out in the workplace or you are looking to further your career, enthusiasm for work and the organisation you are targeting is hugely important.

Interviewers / hiring managers love enthusiastic people. They love them because they convey a sense that they will go the extra mile to excel in the role. They’ll do everything on the job description and a bit more.

F – Flexible

Flexibility of an employee is very high on my personal list of qualities I am looking for in candidates for any role. Someone who is prepared to roll their sleeves up to help someone meet a deadline or take on extra responsibility for a special project, even if it’s not their job, will get noticed for all the right reasons.  Going the extra mile for internal or external customers and being willing to adapt to change is crucial for many roles and many organisations.

G – Goal Oriented

People who know what they want are always more likely to get it. The most successful people in business are those who have clear goals to aim for. So decide right now what your goals are in terms of income, lifestyle, and so on. When your goals are clear in your own mind, you dramatically increase your chances of reaching them. In other words, you need to be organised, deadline driven, and do NOT always rely on others to give you a task.

H – Helping Others

Whether it’s showing someone how to insert a picture into a presentation or proof-reading a proposal, helping other people is a great way to build relationships, shows a willingness to succeed and increases the likelihood of you receiving help when you need it. We all need help sometimes!

I – Impact

Presenting a strong, competent, positive image to others throughout your career is important. Having the ability to converse confidently one on one and in groups is something the majority of people need to do in their careers. It’s worth investing time and effort in working on you presentation skills early!

J – Judgement

Judgement is needed for any job. The ability to make a sound decision based on the facts and implement a plan can make the difference between failure and success. Assessing the strength of your judgement skills and those of others can help you learn to improve your chances of employment and success.

K – Knowledgeable

Whilst you can learn many things on the job, any role will demand a certain base level of knowledge. The more knowledge you can build up about your chosen career path, the better. Whatever field you are looking to work in, there will be boundless information already published on-line and in periodicals. Get into the habit early of reading around your industry vertical and keep up-to-date. As an employer, you can tell very quickly who is well-read and informed and who isn’t.

L – Learner

Each of us can always learn and learn every day.  You can learn from people in your teams, your customer interactions, a mentor, your business network, podcasts as well as from reading and more formal structured training. Make learning a habit that you never break.

M – Manage Your Time

Time management is the effective use of a range of skills, tools and techniques used to organise or manage time when accomplishing specific tasks, projects and goals. Effective time management is underpinned by a range of additional skills which include planning, allocating, goal setting, delegation, monitoring and analysis of time spent, organising, scheduling and prioritising. In most roles you will be expected to juggle all of your work load and hit deadlines.

N – Numeracy Skills

Numeracy involves an understanding of numerical data, statistics and graphs, it is also part of making decisions and reasoning.  Numeracy skills are very important, irrespective of whether you consider a job to be “working with numbers”. Having competence and being confident in working with numbers is a skill that can be used to your advantage in a wide range of employment settings. For example, knowing how profitable a company is, understanding value for money for purchasing and ordering supplies, following a budget or just calculating your holiday time. Being able to understand and analyse data in different formats is considered an essential skill in many organisations.

O – Organised

Being organised is a requisite for any job that involves other people or working to time frames. Employers will want to know that you can be relied on to deliver projects and information on schedule. It’s largely about being logical and controlled.

P – Professional

It is important to remain professional at all times when engaged in a business environment, whether for an organisation or your own business. Being professional not only lets people know you are a reputable person to work with, but also conveys intelligence and poise regarding your position.

People who are professional are unfailingly polite, courteous and well-spoken, no matter what the situation. Being professional means you keep your cool and remain calm under any circumstances. No matter how upset a co-worker or customer makes you, you don’t react; you deal with the situation rationally and calmly.

Q – Quality of Work

Maintaining a high quality of work is essential in the workplace. People do not expect to have to check grammar and spelling, spreadsheet formulae, formatting of documents or monitor your work rate on an hourly basis. Assuming you have been trained on the task at hand, you are expected to perform your work with minimum intervention.

R – Resourcefulness

With the recession forcing us to make do with what we have, being resourceful is now a necessary skill for today’s generation of leaders AND employees. It is not simply a matter of doing more with less. It’s about being able to find innovative solutions to problems; it’s about thinking about things differently and about calling on creativity and imagination to get better results with limited resource. Being able to demonstrate this skill will push you further in your career faster than many other qualities listed here.

S – Self-Awareness

Self-awareness is the ability to recognise moods, emotions, and drivers of our behaviour and understand their impact on others and your job performance. People with strong self-awareness not only are able to identify their feelings but also understand why those feelings occur. They are also aware of their strengths and weaknesses and are not afraid to talk about them. That awareness also helps them avoid setting themselves for failures due to overpromising or overstretching on tasks.

T – Teamwork

All employers are keen to recruit people who are able to co-operate and work in teams. As less hierarchical organisations have emerged with project teams, self-managed work teams and management teams, so the requirements to ‘Get on well with people’, and to ‘Work with and through others’ become increasingly important.

Teamwork involves working confidently within a group, contributing your own ideas effectively, taking a share of the responsibility, being assertive – rather than passive or aggressive, accepting and learning from constructive criticism and giving positive, constructive feedback to others.

U – Understand the Business

I’m amazed when someone comes to interview and hasn’t researched the company, looked into recent successes or in some cases even clicked around the company website. This tells me that they’re not enthusiastic about joining my team.

Managers expect their team members to be interested in their business, understand the organisation’s vision and values, as well as the key goals and metrics of their department.

V – Verbal Communication

Effective spoken communication requires being able to express your ideas and views clearly, confidently and concisely in speech, tailoring your content and style to the audience.

Be clear and concise – Vary your tone, pace and volume to enhance the communication and encourage questions

Persuading and Negotiating – Arriving at an agreement that is agreeable to both sides: a Win-Win situation. Back up your points with logic. Show tact to those you disagree with.

Making a speech in front of an audience – presenting your message in an interesting way, structuring your presentation, using audio-visual aids effectively and building a rapport with your audience.

Communicating effectively in a team – Giving and receiving feedback, listening to what others are saying and often more importantly, what they’re not saying as well as motivating and supporting others are key skills you can work on.

W – Written Communication

All organisations rely on some form of written communication, so you can increase your employability by developing strong skills related to writing reports, composing concise and effective emails, and courteous, compelling correspondence with suppliers and customers. Employers want to see evidence that potential employees have mastered basic spelling, grammar and business tone in their written communication. Employers want workers who can write simple, direct and effective communications that convey specific messages in keeping with a company’s goals, vision and values. Demonstrate strong written communication skills from the outset by submitting perfectly composed CVs or resumes, cover letters and emails when approaching an organisation for a job.

X – X-Ray Spectacles

What on earth am I talking about? Employees that can see through the noise and get to the heart of an issue, opportunity, or challenge quickly are, in my experience, rare but extremely valuable people to have in any team. The ability to ask probing questions of the right people, research around topics quickly and make informed recommendations or judgements are key skills to practice .

Y – Your Personal Brand

Suffice it to say your Personal Brand is what makes you employable or not. It is a summation of every one of the characteristics, qualities and skills listed in the A-Z of Employability and a whole lot more. I have a whole series of posts on Personal Brand which can be downloaded here –  The Brand New Brand You.

Z – Zealous

You normally hear the word zealous with the word ’over’ before it and then normally a horrendous customer service or HR related story follows. Being zealous is a good thing however! Passion for what you do, for your customers and your colleagues is a great starting place in your career and a great place to finish the A-Z of Employability.

As always, I hope you enjoyed the post and would love to get your feedback.

The New SMS – Social Media Strategy

Social Media StrategyFollowing on from my last post the A-Z of Business Social Media, I’ve had some feedback that whilst the A-Z was really useful, for people who are new to social media, particularly in a business sense, they don’t know where to start and how to get the most out of their limited resources, time and money.

So, with that in mind, this post will focus on how to build your social media strategy and where to focus your energy and money.

Your social media strategy needs to be tailored to what your organisation does, who your customers, or potential customers, are and what you are aiming to achieve. I’ll walk you through a framework of questions you need to ask yourself and give you some pointers as to where to get started in a cost-effective way.

Explore

Before you start to build your strategy, it’s a good idea to explore social media channels to determine which will be the most appropriate for your organisation. The A-Z of Business Social Media mentions a number of sites you can check out as well as a few more in this post you may want to think about.

Create a personal account on a few of the most pertinent to your particular business or organisation and explore what people are saying and how they are interacting with each other. As a starting point, whatever your organisation does, I would suggest LinkedIn and Twitter as a minimum if you’re not already using them. Once you’ve spent a bit of time browsing around and becoming familiar with the social world, you’ll be better placed to start thinking about how you can use it to the best effect for your organisation.

Goals and Objectives

What are you trying to achieve from your social media activity? This is a really important question you should ask yourself before putting finger to keyboard. I’ve made a short list below, but it’s by no means exhaustive. You may answer yes to more than one:

Do you want:

Increased brand presence across social channels?

Increased positive sentiment about your brand?

Development of relationships for future partnership opportunities?

Increased traffic to your website?

Improved customer service?

Increased sales leads?

To improve your personal or organisational profile?

Build your network of contacts?

To be perceived as a ‘Thought Leader’ in a segment, market or technology?

Depending on your answers above, you will need to tailor your strategy and focus accordingly.

Social Footprint

Unless you’re a start-up business, chances are that your organisation will already have a Social Footprint. How come?

Your customers, suppliers, employees and the media may already be talking about you online.

Type your organisation’s name into Twitter, Google, LinkedIn, Facebook and you’ll be surprised at who’s being saying what about you.

This is useful for a number of reasons. You’ll be able to;

  1. Determine whether you have a footprint or not and the size of it.
  2. Understand the sentiment towards your organisation – good, bad or indifferent.
  3. Discover whether your target audience is present and engaging in dialogue about you and importantly where.
  4. Find out if you have employees that are advocates or disparaging your brand.

There are a number of tools that can help you do this for free:

Twilert: A great and simple tool to consolidate and keep up with the Tweets on your brand. This tool will email you whenever there are Tweets regarding your brand name and/or other search terms you set up for your convenience.

Kurrently not only searches Twitter for mentions regarding your brand or other search term, but also checks out Facebook and Google+ so you are even more up to date on what’s being said regarding your brand.

Topsy indexes and ranks search results based upon the most influential conversations people are having every day about each specific term, topic, page or domain queried. Therefore you know whether a specific mention has been influential or not, and what type of positive or negative effect it may or may not have.

There are organisations that can carry out this work on your behalf, but would recommend you have a try yourself first.

Analyse Your Social Space

Analyse what people are talking about in your industry – about you, about your competitors, the marketplace, trends, news and reviews.

Who are the most influential brands and individuals in your space? Who are the key social influencers – are they individual thought leaders, news organisations, journalists, politicians, consultancy firms, bloggers or even customers?

You do need to know this, as networking online is as hard, time-consuming and as important as offline networking, if you feel that social media is an important part of your marketing mix.

Once you’ve done some detailed analysis, you understand what you want from Social Media, and you know where your target audience spenda their time and how they interact, you can decide on which social media platforms you invest your time and effort and in what ways.

Choose your Channels and Content

Whatever channels and tools you decide to use you will need to have some content. The richer the channels the more the content you will need. Of course you will hope to reach a stage where the conversation and interaction you achieve will form part of the content. But be under no illusions, tweeting, blogging, sharing, casting, whatever you do will take content and you need to find it. So, review your existing content, and consider where more might come from. What format will you need? Can you subcontract its generation?

It is important to recognise that in a social media context sharing and drawing on others’ material is all part of the inclusive behaviour you need to adopt. If you are tweeting be sure to re-tweet other material that is useful, and spend time responding to others’ posts. Social media is not about one-way broadcasting, it is about conversation and acknowledging and contributing to others’ work. It is part of the deal, and it helps get you noticed as well. So consider your mix of self-generated,  found  material  and  commenting  activity  you  will  use  to  create  content  and engagement.

Define metrics and benchmarks

The most important part of developing your strategy is determining how you are going to measure your success. These should be revisited regularly to ensure you’re measuring the right things, doing the right things, and having the desired effect. I’ve listed some examples below:

If your business goal is to … Then you should measure… Followed by measuring
Generate leads Number of leads generated through social media Sales
Increase customer satisfaction Positive sentiment around your company and brand Customer Satisfaction
Lower customer service costs Number of incidents resolved through social media Headcount Costs
Improve product / service quality Feedback +ve / -ve about your products / services Returns / Complaints
Improve your brand’s awareness Number of product-related issues posted. Brand Awareness

Create and publish content

Publishing content, and regularly, is crucial to any organisation wishing to grow their online brand.

Whichever social platforms you have chosen to engage your audience, it’s important that you’re visible at the right time, with current information and engage in the right way.

Think 70:20:10

70 percent of content should focus on your customers’ interests and needs. This can be accomplished through how-to tips, answers to frequently asked questions, and links to helpful resources. Put yourself in your customers’ shoes – “Would I find this content helpful?” If the answer is yes, then go for it.

20 percent of content should be other people’s content. That means a willingness on your part to allow user-generated content on social channels you manage, such as a Facebook page. This gives your customers a sense of ownership in the conversation and serves to foster trust.

10 percent of content should be promotional. If you are willing to focus 90 percent of your content on others, then, hopefully, no one will complain when 10 percent of it calls attention to your products and services.

Think about timing when you publish your content. As an example, if your target audience is the UK, US and India, 12.30 GMT is a good time to post (start of day in US, lunch in UK and evening in India). If you’re targeting a youth audience 1600-1800 during the week and at weekends is a good time. If you have a mixed audience, you may wish to tailor the message to the audience and post the same product or service at differing times with subtly different content and calls to action.

Engage in Conversations and Help Others

It’s not enough to push out content – Social media is not just another marketing channel you can use to reach your target audience.   The biggest mistake companies and brands make is to use social media as a way to just sell a product. Content should be created with a view to inspiring and participating in conversations.  Social media is about a two-way flow of conversation. People are no longer willing to be passive bystanders – they want to take an active part of the conversation. Think about the kinds of topics and interests that your audience have and engage with them on those topics too. It shouldn’t all be about you!

Followers, ‘Likes’ and traffic are good, but are people engaging with you?  93% of the Internet users active in social media say they expect a company to have a social media presence and to be able to actively engage with that company. 93%! [Forrester]

The key to success with social media is to keep your eye on where your target audience are talking, what they’re saying and more importantly what they’re saying about you. Track these things, adapt accordingly and engage positively and you’ll do better than most!

I hope you enjoyed this post and I look forward to hearing your views and comments as always. Until next time…

A to Z of Business Social Media

A to Z Business Social MediaA – Alerts

You can sign up for Google Alerts quickly and easily. Using those keywords and phrases from your preliminary research online, you can elect to have any instance of those keywords and phrases as Google finds them sent straight to your inbox.

Enter the topic you wish to monitor, then click Preview to see the type of results you’ll receive.

Anytime Google indexes any mention in search results of the alerts you’re signed up for, you receive an email notification into your inbox. The notification is a direct hyperlink to the article, website, blog, product review, etc., wherein the keyword or phrase appeared.

B – Blogging

Blogs have been around for over a decade. The word stands for ’web log’ and they’re effectively online diaries. Anyone can set one up, that’s the easy part. Thinking of something interesting to say each time you blog is the tricky bit.

There a number of blogging tools available for free and you don’t need any programming skills to use them. A couple of the more popular are WordPress and Blogger.

C – Crowdsourcing

The term “crowdsourcing” was coined by Jeff Howe back in 2006, in a Wired article which described a new way of sourcing people who are willing to help or work on a project. Enough people with sufficient time can transform into a lot of available manpower. I’ve highlighted below a number of different types of Crowdsourcing

Crowdfunding: Projects are funded by a large group of people. Crowdcube is a great example of an online business in the UK which has raised millions of pounds for all kinds of projects across multiple sectors – with all the funds coming from people interested in supporting the project and not just investment institutions.

Crowdsourced design: Projects are funded for a large group of people to design something, for example, a website.  There have been many successfully crowdsourced designs, one of the most famous ones being the Rally Fighter car, which was designed by the community and built by a company called Local Motors.

Crowdwisdom: Where users ask questions in front of a large pool of people willing to answer, like Yahoo Answers. A more serious form of crowd wisdom can be found at InnoCentive, which is a community where large corporations post technical or scientific problems to people who can help to solve the questions.

D – Digg

Digg is a social news website that can help you share blog posts and web pages. If you find a page you want to share, you can “digg” it by submitting the URL and a brief description of the page through the Digg website. Other Digg users will see your submission and “digg” or “bury” it. Submissions that get a log of “diggs” are displayed on the home page of the Digg website where many people will see them and will be likely to click on them.

In short, if your blog post makes it to the home page of Digg, you can expect a huge bump in traffic. Since most bloggers want more traffic, hitting it big with a post that gets featured on the home page of Digg is like winning the lottery. Unfortunately, making it to the home page of Digg is very difficult.

E – Ecommerce

Social media may not be huge source of traffic to retailers yet, but there are signs that sites such as Facebook are, nonetheless, influencing shoppers. According to research conducted by Sociable Labs last year, nearly two-thirds of consumers say they read product reviews from friends on the social network, with three-quarters of that figure saying that they click through to retailers’ websites afterwards. Once there, 53% claim that they made a purchase, making social recommendations as important a shopping tool as Google search. The statistics are a positive for brands and retailers, highlighting the role social media could play influencing consumers’ online purchasing activities.

F – Facebook

Facebook pages are incredibly useful to businesses as a means to engage consumers. They can be used to grow revenues, support customers, extend marketing campaigns, generate extra web traffic and boost brand awareness. Creating the perfect Facebook page for your business takes time, planning and resources. But judging by some of the success stories, it is worth it.

You can set up a Facebook page for free, but if you want to do things properly it is going to require a budget. It takes time and effort, and potentially people power, if you want to get the best out of Facebook.

G – Google+

With a growing list of new functions, tools and features, Google+ is slowly becoming a front-runner in the social space for businesses looking to increase their market appeal to an online audience. The number of active users on Google+ grew 27 per cent in the last quarter of 2012 to 343 million users.

The first step in creating a Google+ presence should be setting up a business brand page. Ensure relevant information is added to the ‘About’ section, and visually appealing cover image and avatar are used to catch the attention of Google+ users. A number of appropriate links should also be added to the ‘About’ section as these can have a positive effect on the business’s search engine ranking. As with all social media platforms, it’s important to keep your content fresh and engaging.

Google+ Local is a useful tool that allows users to discover and locate businesses that have opted into the service. When a business signs up, it can add information including address, contact information, opening times, photographs and reviews. While Google+ Local is more applicable to SMEs that have a physical location rather than being based solely online, Google+ users have the option to add their own reviews to a Local page, helping to influence the choice of future users.

H – Hootsuite

HootSuite is a social media management tool that allows users to update and post any pages or profiles for Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, WordPress and others from one place – the HootSuite dashboard. When you sign up, you are essentially given a dashboard with tabs organizing all the social profiles you connect to HootSuite.

Users can implement and analyse marketing campaigns across all social profiles without needing to sign in to each social network individually. For premium accounts, users get advanced features for social analytics, audience engagement, team collaboration and security.

I – IFTTT

IFTTT, which stands for If This Then That, lets you create connections between different web apps and services through what it calls “recipes.” To create a recipe all you have to do is tell IFTTT what the “This” and the “That” in your equation are.

The service integrates with a number of different applications, such as Facebook, Twitter, WordPress, Google and bit.ly and offers a sizable amount of integration options for each to get you going.

IFTTT is simple to use, and there are thousands of pre-made “recipes” to choose from or even to help you think of what you could use IFTTT for. It helps to keep you organised, save you time, and reduce the time spent wading through the masses of information you see in a day.

J – Joining or Not to Join

Few areas of business and society have been untouched by the emerging social-media revolution – one that is not even a decade old. Many organisations have been responding to that new reality, realising the power and the potential of this technology for corporate life: Wikis, SharePoint and Lync enable more efficient virtual collaboration in cross-functional projects; internal blogs, discussion boards, and YouTube channels encourage global conversations and knowledge sharing; sophisticated viral media campaigns engage customers and create brand loyalty; next-generation products are co-developed in open-innovation processes; and corporate leaders work on shaping their future strategy.

However, many companies still hesitate when venturing into public social media networks, harbouring fears of possible customer criticism such as negative comments on the company’s website. While care does need to be taken when planning social media activity, there are undoubtedly significant benefits of integrating social media into small business operations:

• Social media is a low-cost, low-barrier communication channel that allows businesses to interact with internal and external contacts on a regular basis.

• Social media enables businesses to engage with millions of potential customers and investors available at the click of a button.

• Social media and analytic tools used within a company’s private network can allow employers to track employee sentiments and discover possible areas of contention faster than through traditional means.

My view…Join!

 K – Klout

Klout measures influence based on the ability to drive action across the social web. Any person can connect their social network accounts and Klout will generate a score on a scale of 1-100 that represents their ability to engage other people and inspire social actions. Klout enables everyone to gain insights that help them better understand how they influence others. Klout also provides people with opportunities to shape and be recognized for their influence.

L – LinkedIn

LinkedIn is a must for all professionals and businesses alike. It is not merely a social network aimed for business users. Rather, it should be viewed as an online network of influential people all over the world. Whilst there are many uses of LinkedIn for your business, I’ve highlighted three of the top ones below:

Find new suppliers, business partners and clients – Simple searches in your field will reveal thousands of experts, service providers and potential clients. If you do not personally know an individual, you may request to be introduced through a mutual contact or can send an introductory email. Upgrading your membership gives you improved searches and direct access to more people.

Recruitment – LinkedIn can provide easy access to potential candidates. There are both free and paid options Businesses can search for candidates that fit their required level of expertise and approach them directly, provided they are at least ‘2nd degree’ contacts. In order to search further afield, a monthly subscription is needed. However, even the basic or ‘business’ package allows users to contact any individual with a LinkedIn profile. Businesses also have the option of posting a job ad for a monthly fee dependant on location.

Groups – Groups represent a fantastic opportunity for businesses to network and grow. If you are looking to drive traffic to your blog or company website, think seriously about setting up a LinkedIn Group. The key challenge in some industries is to make your group stand out. The key is to find a niche/area of your business that is under-represented and aim to be the authority on the subject. Nevertheless, based on perception alone, the owner is naturally viewed as the thought leader for that niche unless proven otherwise. The more quality content you produce to back this up and the more effectively you run your group, your community will support you and look to you as a leader in that niche.

M – Mobility & Social Media

According to Ofcom in the UK, 55% of adult smartphone users have used their phone for social networking, with one in four (40%) doing so regularly. This rises to 74% in teenagers with 62% doing so regularly. Ensuring that your websites and content are easily viewable via smartphones is becoming more and more crucial.

N – Newsreaders

If you happen to read articles from the same websites every day, then Google Reader might be just for you. Reader consolidates your favourite websites and blogs into one, easy to manage interface. Think of Google Reader as your personalized online magazine. It’s easy to set up and easy to use.

O – Online vs Offline

Social media is still only part of your marketing mix and strategy albeit an increasingly important one. Depending on your industry or sector you will need to consider which will be the important communication channels and how much time, resource and money you invest into which. Ignore Social Media at your peril however!

P – Pinterest

Pinterest is a relatively new, but rapidly growing social network that allows users to visually share, curate, and discover new interests by posting, also known as ‘pinning,’ images or videos to their own or others’ pinboards (i.e. a collection of ‘pins,’ usually with a common theme). Users can either upload images from their computer or pin things they find on the web using the Pinterest bookmarklet, Pin It button, or just a URL .

As with any other social network, Pinterest offers a range of activities you can initiate to market your company to a new audience. The goal here is to gain brand recognition, drive traffic to your website and be successful at converting the new visits into leads.

Q – Quora

Quora is an excellent platform for organisations interested in showing open and transparent thought leadership. You won’t be able to post your news release as the site is moderated and people will contest and question your viewpoint, but if you really know your subject matter, it can be an amazing way to establish your authority in a given field.

Even if you’re not in a position to use the network to demonstrate thought leadership, Quora can still be a useful tool for gathering customer intelligence. You can get insights into how users feel about all kinds of subjects and even ask questions of your own. It’s not a substitute for traditional surveys, since the user base isn’t a representative sample, but it can be an easy way to start getting a glimpse into how your customers think.

R – Reddit

Reddit is a social news website driven by user-generated content in the form of a link or a self-post. Most users view Reddit as a modern-day bulletin board system enhanced for the web. Users submit content on forums, which are split into multiple “subreddits”. Subreddits focus on a specific topic, and there are hundreds of thousands of them. The most popular forums have over 1 million subscribers and more than 100,000 subreddits.

Reddit users rank the content other users submit by voting it “up” or “down. Submissions voted “up” by large numbers of users get listed on the front page of Reddit and usually receive large amounts of engagement from the Reddit community.

Reddit has 2.5 billion page views per month and 34.9 million unique views each month.

Businesses can use Reddit for link building and traffic generation as well as for market research and getting your message out to target audiences with tailored messages. A note of caution though – anything that seems overly promotional or advertising-focused will be very negatively regarded by the community.

S – Stumbleupon

StumbleUpon is a social media bookmarking site that allows users to “like” websites and add them to their profile. These websites are then shared with their friends through their profile and by using the “stumble” button, which is added to a user’s browser toolbar when they sign up. The stumble button basically sends a user to a random website, usually one previously liked by a friend. StumbleUpon boasts more than 30 million users. Each user fills out a survey of their interests, so there is definitely the potential for your business website to reach a broad and targeted audience.

StumbleUpon asks their users to define the categories that interest them, everything from archeology to zoology. If your business fits into one of these interest categories well, your site can get a lot of new visitors that are more likely to be interested in your business. Additionally, you’re going to get a steady stream of visitors if you use it properly and regularly.

T – Twitter

It took Twitter three years, two months and one day to reach their first billion Tweets. Today, there are over a billion Tweets sent every three days. These Tweets represent conversations related to almost any topic imaginable.

For businesses and brands, these conversations provide a rich canvas and a powerful context in which to connect your messages and your brand to what people are talking about right now. It’s a canvas for telling engaging stories, for participating in cultural events, for broadcasting content, for connecting directly with consumers, and for driving transactions. Businesses can influence and participate in real-time conversations on Twitter to drive consumer action with integrated paid, earned and owned campaigns, delivering results throughout the marketing funnel.

U – User Generated Content

In recent years we have developed into a society which likes to share …digitally. User (or Customer) Generated Content is content that we upload to a website or social media platform, examples of such content include audio files, photographs, videos, presentations, documents and reviews.

Research carried out has shown that more than 8 in 10 say user generated content from people they don’t know influences what they buy and indicates brand quality, while 51% say it is actually more important than the opinions of their friends and family, and far more trustworthy than website content. [Source Talking to Strangers Millennials Trust people over Brands Jan 2012]

V – Voice of the Customer

With incidents like United Breaks Guitars now commonplace, it’s painfully clear that social word-of-mouth has tremendous consequences when brands give a poor customer experience. Of course, there’s upside too. Social media is a veritable goldmine of insights that can help a company innovate and improve its competitive position.

Participating in social media—via online communities, blogging and networking sites—is now thought of much like the internet a decade ago. A company is conspicuous in its absence of a social media plan, especially if it sells to consumers.

W – WordPress

Think Oak is written using WordPress. It’s a very versatile blogging tool that is easy to use, has a range of free and chargeable templates, great analytics and has built-in search engine optimisation for Google and Bing. It’s open-source and can be hosted (WordPress.com) or un-hosted (WordPress.org). Even some of the world’s biggest brands use WordPress – Ebay, Ford, Sony and CNN all use it for their blogs!

X – Xbox 720, Playstation 4 & Next Generation TVs

With announcements of the next generation games consoles imminent, it will be interesting to see whether any increased elements of social media are woven into the new Xbox and PS4 operating systems. With 55% of homes having games consoles that can link to the internet plus advances in Smart TVs that already connect with social media channels, I would expect significant growth and opportunity in this space.

Y – YouTube

Though Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter were the leading social networks that swept through the business world in recent times, YouTube continues to be the most valuable video marketing and advertising tool for businesses of all sizes. By far the web’s largest and most popular online video archive, YouTube offers fantastic opportunities for a business to show off its expertise, share knowledge, market products and connect with customers, colleagues and prospects.

Z – Zero to Hero

With some investment of time, energy, enthusiasm, creativity and a little bit of know-how you can rapidly build up the social media presence of your organisation. This is Social Commerce: Turning Social Media into Sales by Guy Clapperton is a new book that I would recommend to get you started,  together with his previous book – This is social media.

Ultimately, you need to choose the social media services that are right for your business. You can’t be engaged with users everywhere and on every medium. If you try, you’ll quickly be focusing only on social media and not on your business. Stick with a handful of services where you can build a following and engage customers on a regular basis.

Hope you enjoyed this A to Z. As always, I look forward to hearing from you.

A to Z of Building a Winning Team

a-z team

Being part of a winning team is a great feeling! Building a winning team is hard work, but can be great fun with some amazing results! Below I’ve detailed Think Oak’s A-Z of Building a Winning Team:

A – Audit Abilities

The very first thing to do when you take on a team or you’re building a new one is to look at the skills you need to win, starting with yourself. What are you good at and where are you lacking? What does your management team need to look like? What types of roles do you need in your team? What skills are needed? It’s really important that you think about these things up-front, before you look at the people you have, are available to you or the gaps you need to fill. Once you’ve answered these questions at the right level of detail, you’ll be in the right position to look at your options.

B – Breakdown Personality Barriers

At any point in a team’s lifecycle there can be conflict. A difference in management or leadership style, a difference of opinion, personal enmity for one reason or another or simply a clash of personality. It’s really important that these are dealt with quickly and you find ways to resolve them without disrupting the team’s momentum. In my career, I’ve found it really useful to take people out of the work environment for a day or two to do some straight talking from the heart about your aspirations, motivations, concerns and ambition as well as taking time to relax and have some fun together.

C – Choose to Win

We all have choices in our lives, but it’s critical for the whole team to be behind your vision from the outset. Everyone needs to make a choice to be part of a winning team and all that it entails to get there. People that don’t want to get on the bus or want to stay along for the ride shouldn’t be given a ticket!

D – Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

It is extremely easy to spend inordinate amounts of time on things that don’t contribute to becoming a Winning Team or your end goal. Keep an eye out for them within the team and on yourself. If you find them, stop them immediately. If people are working on things that aren’t central to the plan, you need and they need to be asking ‘Why?’

E – Energy Management

Ensuring that there is high energy in your team at all times is not an easy task, but an important one for building a winning team. Effective energy leadership is the ability to read the energy of the group and then alter one’s own energy level to get the group to where it needs to go. You can see this at play in sports, or equally so in the classroom or in board meetings. If people are starting to get discouraged or disheartened, you need to step up, raise the energy level and bring more enthusiasm into the room. Quickly, the team starts to feel more optimistic, the energy of the group shifts up and success, and whilst not guaranteed, is much more likely.

F – Focus on Focus

By aligning everyone’s personal objectives to yours and that of the wider organisation you can ensure that people are focussed on the right tasks. Review performance against these objectives on a regular basis and ensure the objectives are SMART.

S – specific, significant, stretching

M – measurable, meaningful, motivational

A – attainable, achievable, acceptable, action-oriented

R – realistic, relevant, reasonable, rewarding, results-oriented

T – time-based, timely, tangible, trackable

Make individuals accountable for key deliverables and reward them for delivery.

G – Get Out of the Engine Room

Your people will not develop, unite or learn from their mistakes if you deal with every problem that comes up or, if you tell them what to do in minutiae of detail. As a leader you shouldn’t be in the engine room, except for the odd inspection. You need to be on the bridge watching for icebergs and pirates!

H – Help Each Other

The best performing teams in business watch each other’s backs. If they see someone struggling with a task, they’ll help. If one department is really struggling for resource they’ll offer another pair of hands. Passionately investing in other people’s success will ultimately raise their performance and that of their teams and ultimately the organisation. As a leader, a good proportion of your time should be spent coaching, supporting, developing and promoting the rising stars within your team. It strengthens your team, protects it for the future and motivates individuals.

I – Ignite Passion

Find out what motivates your people. We are all motivated by different things and a good manager and leader gets to know what motivates their people and tailors their communication style, delivery and behaviour to get the best out of everyone. Praise and recognition for success and cheering the progress goes a long way too!

J – Just Do It!

You can have the best business strategy and business plans, but they are little use if they are not executed effectively. Decisions deferred, reversed or not made at all will not drive your team forward.

K – Knowledge Share

Winning teams share information, and I’m not just talking Key Performance Indicators. They share best practice when they come across it, they share customer and competitor news, they share any lessons they’ve learnt from a project or product launch. By pooling collective knowledge within and across departments, the organisation can reap dramatic results.

L – Learn From Your Collective Mistakes

Things go wrong. Learn from them, fix them where you can, and move on. We can often spend ridiculous amounts of time brow-beating ourselves and others on things that went wrong. Spend that time working on ensuring that those mistakes don’t happen again by changing process, putting controls in place or ensuring that we watch out for those banana skins we slipped on last time. Should the same mistakes keep happening, you need to look more deeply into the problem and find a way quickly to resolve it – Change the process or system, develop the people or change the people.

M – Measure, Monitor and Manage

The key to long-term success for any winning team is measuring the right things, setting appropriate targets, monitoring your performance against them and altering course or taking action when required.

N – Never Give Up

Many of life’s failures are people who did not realise how close they were to success when they gave up – Thomas Edison

In a previous post ‘6 of the best…failures’ I talked about some famous names from all walks of life who persevered with their objectives to reach their goals. Building this ethos into your team’s behaviours will go a long way to driving success.

O – Organise Yourselves around Your Objectives

Many established businesses organise themselves in traditional hierarchies and functions – sales, marketing, finance etc. Sometimes, especially when changing course with your strategy, it is worth challenging team structures to ensure that they are still optimal to meet the strategy. Some businesses build multi-functional teams that are focussed on one particular project or programme at any time, allowing complete focus on delivery and then breaking the team up again on completion. This approach can have significant benefits over traditional team structures by focussing the right people on the right project with the right skills and motivation.

P – Performance Manage All of the Time

Don’t wait for a quarterly or half-yearly review to give feedback – good or bad. Many people need to know how they are doing every day – ask them what will help them most. Most people need feedback at least once a week. A few can get by with feedback once a month, but even for seriously capable high-level strategic people this is not enough.

R – Robust Dialogue

Being able to challenge team members positively is a key part of building a winning team. In winning teams, people trust each other to challenge ideas, ways of working and strategic plans. By being challenging of each other, for the good of the team and your customer experience, the team gets better. Challenging each other to gain personal advantage or to score points over one another are the signs of a losing team!

S – Set Out Your Expectations Clearly

A huge proportion of performance problems can be traced back simply to a failure to explain and agree expectations and/or a failure to understand and provide the help that the person needs. Don’t assume everything is understood and perfectly within people’s capabilities. Instead, take time to explain, check and ask until everyone concerned is happy and sure of what needs doing, how, and most importantly why.

T – Treat Everyone with Respect

I love this quote from Winston Churchill – “I am fond of pigs. Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us. Pigs treat us as equals.”

Whatever your level in the organisation, treat people as equals and with respect.

U – Understand Your Business

This may seem obvious, but I am frequently disappointed by people’s lack of knowledge of their business. Whether you’re on the front line in Marketing, Sales and Service or supporting these functions in IT, Finance or HR, you need to at least understand your company’s vision and strategic objectives. In winning teams, everyone knows these things as a minimum plus they know how their team is performing against Key Performance Indicators as well as what they’re doing to improve against them.

V – Values & Vision

In my view, these are the fundamental building blocks of a winning team. A shared vision together with values that are lived every day ensure that your team is heading in the same direction.

W – Win / Win

This is a personal philosophy, which I’m sure that many in senior positions will disagree on. I believe in openness, especially when it comes to recognition and reward. If the team does well, then the managers and leaders should be rewarded. Obviously levels of reward will differ according to responsibility and personal performance, but if the leaders are remunerated differently on different targets you will not get synergy in the organisation, and certainly not on a sustainable basis.

X – X Marks the Spot

X = the end result on your map – treasure! Whatever your winning team does, there will be an end goal – a successful product launch, a sales target, an improvement in Customer Satisfaction, improved production and so on. Your treasure map is your plan and your team’s focus is reaching the ‘X’ as soon as possible, and before anyone else! Your team need to have a copy of the ‘map’, understand how to read it in case they get lost, and know the importance of beating the competition. They should understand the potential pitfalls along the way, but you need to give them enough tools to make their journey possible and ideally enjoyable!

Y – Yell Success from the Rooftops

Celebrating and publicising success breeds more success, both within your team and organisation as well as externally. People like to associate with winners. You only need to see the number of Olympic medallists on TV at the moment to see that. Success, especially in today’s gloomy climate, is newsworthy, and will put your team and your business in the spotlight, for all the right reasons….and will hopefully bring you more business, and more success.

Z – Zigzag around Barriers

There is rarely a single solution to a problem in business. Winning teams find ways around problems that would leave other teams scratching their heads or giving up. Find out who your ‘Can Do’ people are and keep them close!

Hope you enjoyed this A-Z. As always I’d love to hear your thoughts…

A to Z of Leadership Qualities

Leadership Qualities

Great leaders come in all shapes and sizes, genders and cultures, but they all possess many of the qualities I’ve highlighted below in the Think Oak A to Z of Leadership Qualities:

A – Agile

In today’s economic climate, it is more important than ever for leaders to be agile. Agile leaders are not only exceptional at coping with change, but also in driving it, anticipating the markets, or even creating new ones. They have high tolerance for ambiguity and are actually energised by the possibility of creating something new and different.

B – Balanced

Balanced leaders effectively juggle the importance of meeting their business objectives – sales, revenues, margins and cash flow, and the importance of looking after the needs of their people – committing to their success, motivating their people to be the best they can be and caring for their safety and wellbeing at work.

C – Communicator

Great leaders are great communicators. Regardless of whether you’re talking about business, politics, sports or the military, the best leaders are first-rate communicators. Their values are clear and solid, and what they say promotes those values. Their teams admire them and follow their lead. Likewise, if you want your company to reach new heights of achievement, you must master the art of clear communication and employee engagement.

D – Decisive

Making decisions is the defining aspect of leadership. There has never been a leader who made only right decisions. An effective decision made at the right moment is far better than no decision at all. A decisive leader carefully weighs the potential effects of each option and chooses the opportunity that works best for his or her organisation. To be decisive, you must also feel comfortable taking responsibility for the results of your decisions.

E – Energetic

Energy, and specifically positive energy, is hugely important for successful leadership. Having a reserve of positive energy has a tremendous impact on your ability to navigate to success with less stress.  Positive energy attracts people for better networks and recruitment, motivates and inspires people in your organisation, and enables you to thrive and overcome any obstacles that may come your way throughout the day.

F – Focussed

Leaders have the potential for numerous distractions. The tougher the times, the more you have to focus. Leaders must choose wisely what to focus on and they must judge the context of any situation well enough to decide what to drill down on and what to ignore as background noise.

“Disciplined people who engage in disciplined thought and take disciplined action: this framework captures much of what separates greatness from mediocrity”Jim Collins, Good to Great

G – Genuine

Effective leaders are honest. Be upfront with your people and trust them enough to communicate openly and authentically together. It’s important to build a level of mutual trust within your team so that each person feels comfortable addressing his or her concerns with you. People will very quickly see through leaders that say one thing and do another.

H – Helping Others

Investing in the success of others – your people, your peers and your customers is a quality found in the greatest of leaders. They recognise the importance of investing precious time and energy in supporting growth of other people, helping them to be the best they can be. They see potential in others and want to create opportunities for them to grow and advance, and they seek opportunities to empower them to succeed.

I – Inspirational

Great leaders believe that people determine a company’s success or failure. It is not the size of the building, how cool the product is, or even the best equipment or process that determines success. What propels and sustains a successful organisation is its diverse team of talented, motivated people.

The ability to inspire people to reach great heights of performance and success is a skill that leaders need. Passion, purpose, listening and meaning help make a leader inspirational. The ability to communicate that passion, purpose and meaning to others helps establish the inspirational culture of your organisation.

J – Just

Great leaders can be just or fair and still make bold and decisive leadership decisions quickly. Being just is perhaps the trait most noticeable in great leaders and that which separates them from the ordinary, old-fashioned status quo style of leadership. If people perceive a leader to be unjust or subjective in his or her judgment, the inspiration to follow will slow the entire leadership process to a snail’s pace.

K – Knowledgeable

Leaders must have a large range of information and knowledge at their disposal.  This means they read widely and communicate this knowledge effectively to the people they lead. Great leaders never stop learning about their industry, themselves, their team, and how to best motivate their people. They realise that there is never a point when you know everything; there is always something new to learn. I’m not saying you have to know everything and do everything. No one person should do it all — and if they are self-aware, most people will realise that they really aren’t capable nor knowledgeable enough to do it all.

L – Listener

Great leaders understand the 2:1 ratio—two ears and one mouth. Leaders don’t just give orders. They listen to their team, their customers, their peers, and their competitors because they know it is the best way to understand a situation so they can make the best decision possible.

“We should never pretend to know what we don’t know, we should not feel ashamed to ask and learn from people below, and we should listen carefully to the views of the cadres at the lowest levels. Be a pupil before you become a teacher; learn from the cadres at the lower levels before you issue orders.”

— Mao Tse-tung

M – Motivated

It’s possible to teach someone to be a leader, but truly effective leaders are already passionate and motivated about what they do. Your enthusiasm and level of commitment can inspire your team members and motivate them to do better work. Modelling the attitude you want each person to have is one of the most effective ways to lead your team toward a successful destination.

N – Nurturing

There’s a big difference between managing others to success—and teaching others to find success themselves. Great leaders find satisfaction not only in teaching others but also in nurturing them—in showing others how they can become more than they ever believed they could. These types of leaders have a strong drive to invest in people not for the return it will give them but for the rewards it will bring to people personally.

O – Open

Leaders don’t always have the answer. They need to understand that they may not always be right and know that at times they will be wrong. It is important to stay open-minded and to consider the views of others.

In today’s fast-paced, globally hyper-connected business world in which we live, an organisation’s successes and failures can be tweeted across the internet in a matter of seconds. A knee jerk reaction of many leaders is to clamp down on the amount of information shared internally, with hopes of minimising risk to the organisation. Many times this backfires and ends up creating a culture of risk aversion and low trust. For organisations to thrive in today’s competitive marketplace, leaders have to learn how to build a culture of trust and openness.

P – Personable

Personable leaders are responsive to the needs, feelings  and interests of others. They enable, empower and challenge followers. The mutual relationship is equitable and considerate, showing genuine concern for others. These types of transforming leaders provide support, and they are helpful to others, including coaching and mentoring. In addition, because they challenge followers to stretch and take reasonable risks, these leaders are forgiving when efforts do not succeed as expected.

Q – Questioning

Leaders question. Even when they think they know the answer. Questions can be used to facilitate discussions. Questions can be asked about how people are feeling about change, what contributed to a recent success, what customers want, how to support diversity, how the world is changing, what might be needed in the future and so on. Questions are also a great way of challenging people to take a fresh look at an issue or problem, and helping them to think about the outcomes they want.

R – Results Driven

Whether you work in a public, private or voluntary organisation, great leaders need to produce results. Whatever leadership role you’re in you will have objectives and / or goals that you need to meet to be a success. Ensure you build a good team around you, build and communicate and enrol them in your strategy, set the right objectives, measure and manage performance and be prepared with plan b’s and c’s to ensure results are achieved.

S – Strategic

All leaders must set time aside on a regular basis to think about the future – the marketplace of the future, your future customers and their needs, your competitors and what they might be doing and the wider economy. As we have seen with several UK companies in the last few weeks – Comet, Jessops, Blockbusters and HMV, a failure to anticipate and change at pace, in light of the changing face of the retail marketplace and the ways that consumers purchase, has led to businesses entering into administration and putting tens of thousands of jobs at risk.

T – Trusted

Trust is the cornerstone of a healthy, positive, productive organisational climate. Without trust between leaders and those whom they lead, progress is slowed and even simple processes can become politicised and approached with caution. Risk-taking and innovation, is reduced, and collaboration is rendered difficult or impossible. Within a low trust environment, change is often approached with fear, not curiosity or hope. The actions or behaviours of leaders set the tone for trust within an organisation and once trust is broken it becomes difficult to build again.

U – Urgency

As I have said in previous posts, a sense of urgency is crucial for leaders engendering change in their teams or organisation. ‘Sense of Urgency’ by John Kotter is a great read if you want to find out more.

V – Visionary

Jack Welch said “Good business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision, and relentlessly drive it to completion.” Although he talks about business leaders, this leadership characteristic is far-reaching across all dimensions of leadership. Without a vision of where you want to take your organisation and the ability to communicate it effectively, you will struggle to drive any form of significant change or growth.

W – Work-Life Balance

Getting a ‘Work-Life Balance’ is important. All great leaders work hard and sometimes have to put in long hours to deliver results. Take it from someone who knows – Working ridiculously long hours on a sustained basis, is not good for you, for your family, for your relationships, for your health, for your productivity and for your people and ultimately your organisation. Find a balance that works for you and stick to it.

X – X Factor

In his book, ‘Great by Choice’ Jim Collins states – “The x-factor of great leadership is not personality, it’s humility”.

Great leaders direct their ego away from themselves to the larger goal of leading their company to greatness. The dictionary defines humility as modesty and lacking in pretence, but that doesn’t mean humble leaders are meek or timid. A humble leader is secure enough to recognise his or her weaknesses and to seek the input and talents of others. By being receptive to outside ideas and assistance, creative leaders open up new avenues for the organization and for their people.

Y – Yardstick

As a leader, your behaviours, values  and actions will be monitored by your people, whether you like it or not, and they will become the yardstick of measurement for your team or organisation.

Z – Zest for Life

Leaders enjoy what they do. They get a buzz when they hear of their team’s success – a new customer, a great sale, a customer compliment, a team winning an award or someone getting a promotion. If you don’t enjoy what you do and get a thrill from achieving great results, I would suggest it’s time for a change!

I hope you enjoyed the A to Z of Leadership post. As always would love to hear your views and other suggestions….

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