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Budgeting

January 21st, 2012 No comments

Budgeting………… over the years, I have seen budgeting become this massive effort instead of it being the simple step of applying financial quantification to an annual execution plan.  So let’s go and look at the various opportunities for simplifying the process.

Opportunity I

Please do not merge the annual planning with budgeting process.  People, they are separate efforts.  Annual planning should be done after the strategic multi-year planning process.  Then the annual plan should be used as input to the budgeting exercise where the financial constraints are applied to the annual goals.  The trade-offs are then made based on the strategic goals.

When the financial planning is merged with the annual planning, people tend to become overwhelmed and/or decisions tend to be boil down to cost management instead of annual execution of the strategic plan.

And, let’s face it, the accountants already control too much of our life already.  Please don’t allow them to dictate how we do our jobs.

Opportunity II

This is one that I have seen happen more times than I can count and is a pet peeve of the budgeting effort.  When creating the budget, it is good practice to use the expenditure numbers from the previous years.  You do have that data don’t you?  So let’s look at this scenario.

We outsourced some work to a company and when we started, they only need to provide us with 10 folks.  If we assume that they charged us $20 per head per month, it would be a total cost $200 per month.  Then after five months we doubled the headcount to 20 folks, we would now be paying them a total of $400 per month.

So for the visual folks, here is what our expenditure looks like.

 

OK, so this is exactly like we thought it would be, a step up as we spent the money.  The numbers are in the table below, totally up to $1,000.

 

Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Total
0 0 0 0 100 100 100 100 100 100 200 200 1,000

 

Now assuming that we would want to continue the service, how much should we budget for?

Well the simple answer is, that spent $1000 this year and therefore the budget should be the same because we have a flat budget.  Then there are other that are asking about the duration of the project etc.  So here are some more assumptions that for the purpose of this scenario, I will define but as management, you really should be making these bets.

  • We will continue with the contract because they are delivering.
  • There will be growth; you need to decide how you want to forecast it…….
  • Assume no attrition

Of all of these questions, the biggest challenge will be how aggressive do we want to be be on the growth and how do we want to allocate it.  For the purpose of this example, I am going with 100% growth allocated across the four quarters.  This means that we will grow 25% of this years allocation every quarter.  Now the graph looks like this.

 

Again, no big surprises because it simply shows the continued expenditure and also the 25% growth every quarter.  Please note that they add up to $3,900 and therefore this will need to be the budget for the following year.  If you are being held to a flat budget, then you will need to prioritize and decide where to cut, this contract or elsewhere.

 

Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Total
250 250 250 300 300 300 350 350 350 400 400 400 3,900

 

Opportunity III

Doing the budgeting exercise without supplier or partner involvement.  In this scenario, the person doing the budget takes a guess, or maybe looks at a couple of websites to get an idea of the possible costs.  In many cases this is done because the person doing the budget does not know what the actual annual plan is and the idea is to get enough $ before embarking on the project.

Some other reasons why the budget can increase:

  • Off shore exchange rate
  • Up-leveling of the skills of the out sourced staff
  • Increased scope
  • increased coverage
  • Increased rates

In my experience, I have yet to have a supplier or partner account manager push back when I tell them I am working on budgets and need to understand what to budget for the following year.  Naturally I give them a month or two notice so that they can get things sorted out on their side.  This is especially key when dealing with off shore facilities because of the exchange rate fluctuations.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lesson Learned: Instructions and personality type

June 27th, 2011 1 comment

A while back, I lost a good friend and last week, I realized that some of my behavior must have been so irritating for him.  For those that do not know me, I am a results orientated person, often referred to a Type A.  My friend, let’s call him Curly, had his healthy streak of Type A but he was a Collaborator at his core.  He was at his happiest when he got to work with others creating something, especially to improve the life of others.

Embarrassed person image
Me, I tend towards having frank and direct discussions, which for the most part works, because when I misstep, I am able to notice and recover the situation.  The fact that I only became aware of this behavior this weekend, is totally embarrassing to me.  Hopefully this post will help others learn through my mistakes.

So, the behavior

I tend to make statements or suggestions that certain very collaborative personalities, such as Curly, can easily construe as instructions.  OK, in some cases, they were instructions.  Well intended but instructions never the less.  Intent does not equal impact. While he never said anything about my behavior, I remember one occasion, it was obvious that I had made him angry but then, being the great collaborative person that he was, he smoothed over the situation, cracked a joke and we moved on.

 

We never revisited the event and I remained blissfully ignorant………..until this weekend when someone else educated me.

 

Now I wonder, how many other people had this same reaction to my “instructions”….if you did?

 

 

Lesson Learned: Egg and Bacon

August 9th, 2009 No comments

A couple of years back I had the privilege of having breakfast with a very successful top-tier VC.  We met for breakfast at an upscale hotel in downtown San Francisco.  He is an avid skier and in incredible shape; therefore I was expecting to see a selection of health food on his plate.  To my surprise, he was having  fried eggs and bacon for breakfast. I could not resist and asked him about his choice of breakfast.  He laughed and explained that it was one of  his indulgences and it also served as a reminder for him.  My quizzical expression said it all and he started to explain.

The chicken was involved in the creation of the egg but the pig was committed to the creation of the bacon.  The pig died to produce the bacon while the chicken lived another day to lay more eggs.

He quickly acknowledged that when you have a pig, you need to investigate all options.  For example with a pig you have two options:  cut it up, smoke it and sell it as bacon or put lipstick and a dress on it and market it as Miss Piggy.  Either way you can make money, it just depends on that the market wants.

Needless to say I longer look at egg and bacon the same.

Lesson Learned:

  • I now ask my myself:  Am I committed or involved?
  • There are always options and as long as as there is a market, it is possible to make it work.

Lesson Learned: Promotions are not about you!

June 7th, 2009 No comments

Way, way back I was promoted to my first management position.  The conversation with my boss went something along the following lines.

Boss: It sounds like you were expecting the promotion?

Me: Yep, I worked my butt for this .  (rather smugly) (Looking back I was an arrogant little sh1t)

Boss: So you see this promotion as a reward?

Me:  Oh yes! (laughing)

Boss: I see it differently.  The promotion is not a reward for your hard work!  That is why I gave you a bonus.  I promoted you because the department needs someone who to lead the team and offload the day-to-day management tasks from me.  This promotion means that I need you to step up into this new role and perform.  It will be a stretch for you and you have a lot to learn but I think that you can do it.

Me: What do I need to learn?

Boss:  You will need to learn management skills, improve your project management skills to handle multiple simultaneous projects and people.  And of course budgeting too.

Me: No problem!  I will prove that I am worth the investment.

Boss:  I am investing in you and you are a high risk investment at that!  You have great technical skills but now you need to learn the additional skills to perform as a manager.  Basically you only have 25% of the skills to needed to perform as a manager!  I am prepared to take the risk for a limited time and you need to demonstrate progress week by week.  I can only give around 6 months to get up to speed and deliver.

Me:  No problem

—————————————————-

Wow, boy was that a boatload of work!  I learned a multitude of extremely valuable lessons from that promotion and the ensuing years of work.  Here are the top lessons that I learned in the those six months.

  • People are promoted into positions to meet the needs of the business.

  • The learning phase never ends but there is a limited amount of time that the business can wait for you to learn and gather the skills needed to perform at the level needed.

lesson learned: competence level

April 28th, 2009 No comments

Way back when I was young and ready to take on the world, I had the privilege to be assigned to one of the top computer consultants in South Africa.  Leon had a reputation of being really tough and I had no idea exactly how tough.  that being said, I learned from him that any other single person.  Thanks Leon!

On my second day in the department, I was summoned to meet with him  to discuss my computer knowledge.  I walked into this meeting with all of the arrogance that a living person could muster.  Over the next 2 hours, Leon proceeded to educate me, in the nicest possible manner and by the end of the meeting, I was no longer under the impression that I had a great understanding of computers.  I understood that I had a boatload to learn and I left that meeting with a long list of areas that I had to go and study.

Right at the end of the meeting Leon shared with something that I have never forgotten.  The three stages of competence:

  • Stage I- You know very little and you know it
  • Stage II- You have a pretty good understanding, however you unaware of how more there is to learn
  • Stage III- You have a pretty good understanding, yet you know that there is much more to learn

He emphasized that we go through these stages with everything that is new to us.  Therefore just because you are in Stage III in one area, you can be Stages I or II in other areas.  The dangerous level is the 2nd stage because we are oblivious about the damage that we inflict because we do not know what our limits are.  His key message to me was to get through the 2nd stage as quickly as possible.

Lesson Learned:  Get through Stage 2 as quickly as possible!

Lesson Learned: Document Readability

March 17th, 2009 No comments

I had the privilege of attending a talk by Dr Tom Sant,  author of  “The Language of Success” and “Persuasive Business Proposals” today and he shared a real nugget.  It is actually a feature built into Microsoft Word, though I was totally oblivious to it.  The feature  evaluates the document and creates a report on the readability of the document.

The first trick is to enable this feature:

  • Open up Microsoft Word
  • Open Options – in Office 12 click on Office button and click on the Word Button
  • Click on the Proofing option from the menu on the left.

wordoptionsetting1

  • As indicated by the A – Ensure that the “Show readability statistics” checkbox is checked.
  • As indicated by the B – Ensure that these boxes NOT checked
  • Now execute the Spell checker as normal
  • Handle the notifications regarding spelling or grammar warnings.
  • At the end of the check a popup will be displayed similar to the following:

wordreadabilitystatistics

Check the Averages

  • Words per sentence should be 15 to 17
  • Characters per word – for best readability this should be less than 6

Check the Readability

  • Passive Sentences should be less than 10%
  • Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level should less than 10

So as you can see, the first paragraph of this blog post does not rate very high for readability.  It must be the names of Tom’s books.

Managing Expenses Proactively

March 11th, 2009 No comments

Considering the recession that we find ourselves in, I guess it is not surprising that I find myself having many discussions about how to handle the situation where cuts needs to be made.  Unfortunately, I have watched many leaders take an overly optimistic view and totally underestimate the dip of the market and then over estimate their available resources to weather the storm.  For startups with limited resources, this can be fatal.

market-trend-2

In this graphic, I have used the blue line to denote the revenue coming into a company.  The red line denotes the expense reductions that the company is making with the exact points of reduction marked with the A, B, C and D markers.  The area marked in green between the two lines is the bad zone for companies without sufficient reserves to weather the downturn.  Unfortunately, I have also seen  the plug getting pulled because of insufficient funds.

Although this approach is fairly common, it tends to have a rather disastrous affect on the people in the company.  The people are under continuous threat of additional cuts and therefore some of them resort to some rather significant self preservation behaviors.  In these circumstances, the teamwork takes a backseat and as such the productivity also take a massive hit.  In addition, talent retention is an issue and in most cases the best people walk first, because they can, leaving the lower caliber folks behind.

market-investment

This graph shows a totally different behavior and the blue line shows the incoming revenue while the green line shows expenditure.  In this case the expenditure has been drastically reduced when the incoming revenue has declined.  In this graph, I have created the impression that there is very little between the incoming revenue and the expenditure but there are some very successful companies that follow this model but have a much healthier buffer between the the incoming revenue and the expenditure.  In this case, cuts in expenditure are made at points A and B and these cuts do mean job cuts.  Nothing should be spared from the cuts.  e.g. it is far better to sacrifice the free sodas instead of your office mate.

The purple area is where the company is doubling down and investing for the market upturn.  This investment, provides the company with a head start on their competitors.  This approach has some significant benefits because the people trust the management more because they are actively managing the situation.  In addition because a strategy is being followed, it creates an open environment that is predictable for the employees and leads to much less fear and uncertainty.  I have found this approach to be much more acceptable to the high performers and therefore allows you keep the staff that you want to keep.

Lesson Learned: Am I Behaving Like a Teenager?

March 5th, 2009 No comments

Let’s call this executive Steve, he is a  senior level executive, in his early 60′s.  He is very well respected by the people in his organization in a large part due to his extremely calm demeanor.

Steve’s directs are all VP’s in the company and they had been struggling with an issue for close on 7 weeks and were all frustrated.  To make matters worse, these execs had allowed the issue  to impact their interpersonal relationships with some of them having their little versions of the “cold war”.

So during a meeting in the boardroom, Steve watched with mounting displeasure as his directs expressed their frustration at not being able to solve the problem.  Each of them proceeded to provide excuses or point at some or other reason why they could not address the issue on hand.  Steve demonstrated his patience and calmness again by allowing each of them to express their opinions. He then asked them how they were working together on addressing the issue.  Again they behaved in like ducks with watertight backs.  Steve then asked them about what they would do if they were in his shoes?  Again they had many words and Steve slowly stood up.  Some of his directs paid attention but others did not.

However, when Steve slammed his hands down on the table, the loud clap drowning out the expletive that he had just uttered.  All of his directs stared at Steve, dumbfounded, and then he said something:  “If I wanted to hear reasons why this cannot be done, I would have asked my teenage son!  I am paying you significantly more to solve problems.  So why don’t you stop behaving like teenagers and act like the professionals that I am paying you to be!”

Needless to say, his directs had a solution ready for him four hours later.

So the Lesson that I Learned from this, has changed how I approach things.  Now, when I am moaning or bitching about something, I simply ask myself:  ” am I behaving like a teenager?”  If the answer is yes, then I modify my behavior and to ensure that I am adding value.

learning from Lance Armstrong and Levi Leipheimer

February 21st, 2009 No comments

I was watching the Tour of California this morning in the company of Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwin, the best cycling commentators in the world.  They mentioned that Lance Armstrong analyzes his time-trial performances and makes changes to his training regime to ensure that he meets his season goals.  This got me thinking about the parallels between world-class competitive cycling and business.  The stage was the time-trial  to Solvang and was won by Levi in style with him crossing the line with three fingers extended, indicating his pursuit of his third win.  Go Levi!!  Here are my thoughts:

  • focus on the goals – set the goal(s) and stay focused on achieving the goal(s).  Successful sportsmen are great examples of this behavior and I find that this is a challenge for people in business.  Set the goal and evaluate your efforts to ensure that they are contributing to the goal.  Do not forget that it also takes sacrifices and it is not only what you do but also what you do not do.  For us in the business world, it mainly manifests itself with spending too much time on tasks that do not contribute to achieving the goals.  A good example is the water cooler talk.
  • preparation – During the post stage interview, Levi spoke about his experience of riding the stage in training and knowing how his body responds at the various points of the stage.  This is no different to us in the business because we also need to come to the table prepared.  For us it might mean doing our research, gathering data or something like socializing an idea to gather feedback from our colleagues.
  • confidence in your own abilities – you just have to believe in yourself!  Belief in yourself is key and it is contagious because everyone likes winners.  Just be careful of coming across as arrogant!
  • learning from feedback - top sportsmen are used to getting feedback from their coaches and management.  In the business world, I have seen this improve over the years with feedback from managers and peers now becoming more and more prevalent.  The key for us in the business world is to adjust our behavior based on that feedback.
  • self awareness – The ability to evaluate your behavior and performance objectively is key.  No matter what your chosen profession is, this step is required to get to the top.  It takes regular introspection and self evaluation, which for me is a less than pleasant experience.  A trick here is to do postmortems as part of the process, thereby depersonalizing the experience and making it less of an attack on our egos.

lesson learned: always assume positive intent

January 1st, 2009 No comments

I had a manager that always told me -  “always assume positive intent”.   Normally this was when we were discussing an issue that was controversial or emotionally charged.

Implementing this lesson in my day-to-day dealings, I find that as long as I approach the situation with an “assume positive intent” mindset, I am generally able to overcome most challenges much quicker and with far less conflict.

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