Archive for December 2007
Some weeks ago I sat through yet another presentation that had me drifting into dreamland within minutes. To stay awake, I started to put together a list of stereotypical soporific speakers, much in the spirit of a couple of my earlier posts on project mismanagers and meeting time wasters. It was, I confess, the best time I’ve had at a bad presentation in a long time. Without further ado, here’s my list:
Pete Powerpoint: Peter’s presentations are a vehicle to showcase his undeniable virtuosity at Powerpoint. The content? Who cares. The slides are absolutely brilliant.
Freda Funny-font: Freda loves visual aids. Her problem is that she uses unreadable fonts.
Marty Mumbler: Martin has something useful to say, I’m sure. The only problem is I can’t figure out what it is. His presentations invariably consist of an inaudible issuance of intonations that even those in the front row cannot interpret.
Greta Garbled: Greta has mastered the art of the unfocused presentation. She manages to cram a lot of diverse – but not necessarily relevant – material into her talks. It’s quite a challenge to figure out what she’s going on about.
Barry Backside: Barry’s presentations can actually be quite good – if only I could get to see them. His problem is that he refuses to face his audience while speaking, often unwittingly covering his slides, or the whiteboard or whatever visual aid he’s using.
Umberto Unprepared: Umberto likes to wing it, but unfortunately ends up crashing every time. He never prepares for his presentations, and it invariably shows right from his starting stutter to his final fumble.
Oscar Overtime (Thomas Too-much): Oscar is in some ways the extreme opposite of Umberto – he prepares way more material than he has time to deliver. Consequently he ends up going over his allotted time. He’s mastered the art of ignoring frantic signals from meeting moderators and cues from annoyed audiences. He’s prepared all that wonderful material and he’s going to deliver it (all), come what may.
Mike Microphone-Muddler: You’ll hear about half of Mike’s presentation. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to predict which parts of his talk you’ll hear because he keeps drifting in and out of microphone range at random.
No doubt, there are many others I’ve missed in this short list of soporific speakers. I welcome further contributions to the list through your comments.
Some weeks ago I played table tennis , or ping-pong as North American residents know it, for the first time in many years. The occasion was brought about by a comprehensive power failure in the building I work in. The UPS held up for a half hour or so, giving our ops mob just enough time to notify users and shutdown servers gracefully. That done, all we could do was to wait for the guys at the power company to do their thing.
Deprive a bunch of IT folks of their computers and they’ll soon start inventing other means of entertainment. Sure enough, within minutes someone suggested improvised table tennis, to be played on the lunch room table with CD cases as racquets and printer toner cartons, lined up end-to-end, serving as a rather wide net. We played several rounds of single-point games, with the loser handing the CD case to the first person on the queue (by this time a large queue had formed since no one had anything better to do).
Whilst engaged in a particular long rally against a worthy opponent from helpdesk, it occurred to me that table tennis rallies are a bit like dealing with clients. Allow me to explain: the aim of the game – table tennis, not consulting (although some practitioners may consider the latter a game as well) – is to lob or smash or return the ball in any way to the other court as snappily as one’s ability permits.
“And what does this have to do with consultants dealing with clients?”, I hear you ask.
Well, consultants are generally engaged to provide a service in return for which they are paid, often by the hour or some multiple thereof. Given that consultants bill by time, it behooves them to respond to all client queries in a timely manner.
If you are a consultant, your clients should never be left wondering about when they might expect a response from you. If there’s any waiting to be done, be sure it’s you who is doing the waiting. Snappy, accurate responses to client queries are of paramount importance. As in the case of table tennis, the ball should as far as possible be in their court, not yours.
The well known technology advisors who construct magic quadrants tell us that the traditional IT department will disappear in a radical five year transition. The death of “old IT” , we’re told, will be accompanied by the birth of a next-generation IT department, staffed by (what else but) a new breed of technology professional. These new-look departments will be up to a third smaller in size than the ones they replace, the superfluity of staff being achieved by automation.
But there’s a silver lining: those fortunate to remain employed in these personnel-depleted, automation-enhanced technology departments will have novel (as in new, not fictional) titles like Director of Processes or Innovations Manager. Seriously, I didn’t make these up – they’re taken straight from the first paragraph of the article .
So, here’s a strategy for survival in the new world: rename/redefine your current job using buzzword compliant (but otherwise obscure) terminology. As an example close to home (and taking a cue from the article), an IT Development Manager might become a Director of Process Improvement, the latter being a nice CMMesque title which has the added advantage of not saying much about the work the person does. Who can argue with it, though? Surely, every company needs some direction in their process improvement efforts. Application development, on the other hand, is so passe that its time has almost passed. I give it five years at most. How can I be so sure? Well, there’s this article I read recently…
Australia went to the polls on November 24th. The final standings in the lower house are yet to be declared (as of December 3rd), some seats being too close to call. But it was clear, by as early as 8:00 pm on election day, that the Australian Labor Party had won in a landslide, thereby ending the long tenure of the Liberal-National Coalition government headed by John Howard. This isn’t a political blog, so I’m not going to wade into potentially contentious debates on election issues. However, I’d like to draw your attention to one item which figured prominently in the lead up to the election: the strength of the economy . Now, conventional political wisdom deems that an incumbent government is never turfed out in good economic times. Yet, in this election, the ruling party was voted out (and emphatically so) despite having presided over a period of sustained economic growth.
Analysts and politicians, flummoxed by the electorate’s seeming obliviousness to economic issues, have attributed the loss to a host of reasons ranging from unpopularity of workplace reforms legislated by the erstwhile government to bad timing (yes, one pollie did offer that as an explanation). These and many other factors have played a part but an important reason, in my opinion, is that there was – and still is – a disconnect between the good economic news at the macro level (GDP, unemployment figures etc.) and the not-so-good news at the micro level (prices, household debt etc.). The results of the undoubtedly excellent “big-picture” performance of the economy, as nice as it looks on paper, hasn’t made people feel better off at a personal level.
This, in my usual circumlocutory fashion, brings me to my point: in any effort, good results mean nothing if people don’t get to share in them.
Managers of all shades and stripes are measured by the results they achieve – sales managers may be judged by their ability to meet and exceed sales targets, and project managers by the successes or failures of their projects. Regardless of what the goals may be, they’re rarely achieved by the managers’ own efforts. More likely, they’re a consequence of the coordinated work of a group – the sales or project team, as the case may be. It is important to remember this while the work is in progress, and also when it is done and the credits start to roll out. Acknowledge your team publicly, make them feel they’ve been a part of the effort and reward them adequately, else it may all come to nought.