The Summit - February 2023
The newsletter for PS Executives!
Welcome to February's edition of The Summit. This month we have a treat for you with two articles from the PS Principles team as well as an article from one of our consulting program participants.
To see the full archive of The Summit, please go to the Summit Index.
Optimizing Project Resource Models
Over the holidays I've spoken to a few of our customers and the topic of resource optimization has been raised a few times. Rather than right a long article about how hard it is, I thought I'd just list a couple of basic principles I use when looking at building out an optimized resource plan.
1. Engaged Project Execution Model
To start, I ask myself one simple (alright, it isn't always simple) question. what resources are needed to proactively lead one average-sized project to completion? The key here is "proactively". What we mean by this is that we do not want to "leave" the customer to their own devices once the project starts. We want to drive the project forward making the most efficient use of the resources on that project and resist the temptation to time slice the resources across multiple "passively executed" projects.
Passively executed projects don't ever finish on time. They are never an effective use of resources, so we shouldn't try to run them that way. Our ability to generate profit is far more effective when our project don't drag out. So we should ideally plan for them to be executed in a proactive way.
So, for each main project type that we implement, we should define a proactive implementation resource profile. A $350k project might take 5 months and require a minimum of 50% project management time to stay proactive. It might also require a varying range of architect time, consultant time and other varying roles. But a $50k implementation of a configured (rather than developed) solution might only require 25% of a project manager or even less to keep it proactive.
2. Add in Customer Engagement
While a lot of people know that they don't factor in the process of engaging the customer. Almost every IT project needs human resources, dat and or IT support from its customers to make the project a success. So unless we can get the customer to assign its resource effectively also, our project's use of our resources will also struggle.
Think about it! How can our resources be optimized if the customer's resources upon whom our project's progress relies are not also optimized? We are just assigning resources hoping they will be optimized only to find that the customer is wasting their availability.
the impact of this is catastrophic not just to the resource model, but also the profit we modeled from it.
3. Build Optimized Customer Resource Models
When running CPQ projects we spent a LOT of time building out the resource models that customers would need to implement in order for their projects to effectively use the resources they were paying for. After all, why rent a Ferrari if you're not around to drive it? It's pointless.
The smaller the project, the more important this rule becomes. A large project is more likely to attract a larger assignment of resources from the customer. Most customers expect this for a large project so they are prepared to assign part-time or full-time resources.
But smaller projects often struggle because the customer never assigned a project resource at all. Instead, the project is pointed to a full-time employee who is doing another job and in his or her spare time, they are expected to support the vendor as they implement the new project.
We see this create horrific forecasting issues in hardware installation companies. For a lot of hardware installers their projects are 3-5 days in duration. If we drive out on site to start installing network equipment only to find that the customer can let us into the server room but doesn't have anyone to help us out with the existing switch configuration then we are wasting our time. The 3 day project just became a 4 day project but yet we don't want to pass that impact on to the customer.
4. Pre-state the Consequences
For those customers we have worked with that have smaller implementation projects we have always recommended a penalty for customer no-shows or misses on the provision of required resources. We need to be clear, the reason this project only costs $25k is if your team is ready with this information and provides it to our team in this way so that they can get to work and make the most efficient use of your money to get the job done as quickly as possible to thew highest possible degree of quality. any impact you have on that will cost you, not us.
We did this once with a hardware company and found that their "turn aways" reduced by 50% within the first few weeks. We simply added a clause to their work order that stated the penalty for a wasted day attending the customer's site was the price of that resources time for that day. No discount.
Pre-statement is an amazing tool that can help us get customers to stay engaged in many ways and this is one of them.
5. Escalate Customer Disengagement
When customers disengage from a project, escalate it immediately. Service Provider Sponsors must step in and state, "You have caused us to lose revenue through the inefficient assignment of our resources. We don't want to have to charge you for this, but if it happens again, we will need to."
What's a customer going to say? A really nasty customer might tell you to jump in a lake, but most are going to agree with you. They will of course, give you an excuse but ultimately, you have the upper hand.
6. Enforce the Model
There are two places the resource model must be enforced. The first is during the sales cycle.If we build a model that says "Proactive delivery of these projects requires 25% of a project manager," then that is how we should price it to be sold. When the customer comes back and says, "We don't need that much, can you reduce it?", we remind them that our goal is to "push" the project forward at all times so that it costs them as little as possible.
I've had this discussion many times and only on a handful of occasions had to reduce my project manager's time to less than the ideal model. When I've been forced to do that, I've been able to compensate by having the customer accept the increased risk of lack of engagement if they do not pick up the proactive shortfall. "In that case, we are going to need you to drive this project to ensure it meets it ideal resource consumption and if it doesn't, we will need to charge for it."
The second place the model needs to be enforced is when customers imply want to slow down or put projects on hold. How can we hope to achieve our profit or productivity targets if we agree that the customer can dictate when we are allowed to earn the revenue they committed to helping us generate?
I find it amazing that we just let customers make these adjustments without penalty. Again, pre-statement helps a lot! I've had pre-sales slides that have bold lettering to the effect of, "We do not slow down or put projects on hold!" The customer will ask, "That's strange, why?" and we will explain, "We have dedicated the assignment of these resources to your project. We want them to efficiently lead you to an outcome as quickly as possible. We want to assign them to other projects to continue to make us money. If you mess around with that, it has a negative impact that will affect both of us."
While the customer will nod at this, they will also attempt to ignore it once the project is in full swing and their executives come racing in to tell them they need to halt the project because there is a hole in the budget. It is true that we can't stop the customer from making some of these changes to how they staff the project, but we can ensure that the consequences are correctly passed on. By doing this I've seen organizations half the number of on-hold projects simply explaining to customers the natural consequences that must be passed onto the project if it is slowed or stopped.
In summary, effective resource modeling is indeed complex. It has many components that need to be considered all the way through from planning to execution. We need to think not just of how we lead the project in a way that keeps the customer engaged, but also hold the customer accountable for how they utilize the resources they asked us to commit to their endeavor.
B.A.L.T. to Stay Calm in Meetings
I get asked a lot, "How can I keep myself poised in tense meetings with customers?" If you've ever sat in a tense meeting with me, you'd might be justified in thinking, "How would he know?"
This being said, and over the years, I have worked on my own ability to sit through these meetings in a more subdued but more effective manner. I'm always in awe of the super calm executive who never flusters but still manages to cut through the crap and get to the best outcome. Obviously, personality and character have a lot to do with it, but many people have a disposition that doesn't naturally lend itself to being the most calm and constructive in these moments, For you (and for myself) B.A.L.T. is my hack!
As hokey as it might sound to a go-get-em Alpha, breathing is one of the keys to keeping calm. The physical effects of deliberate deep or box breathing have been documented everywhere. From army sniper training to child birth to Chris Hemsworth's Limitless, the correct breathing technique has been shown to calm your body by providing an increased level of oxygen to the brain while also stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system which releases the chemicals required to calm your system.
The two techniques that are easiest to implement in a meeting are:
Deep Breathing: Breath in until your usual point, then breath in again until you feel the air truly fill your diaphragm. Upon reaching this point, don't cough and splatter, but slowly release the air in a way that doesn't arouse suspicion from your surrounding colleagues or Zoomies.
Box Breathing: A more complicated approach that have as good or even better effect. Breath in for 5 seconds. Hold for 5 seconds. Breath out for 5 seconds. Hold for 5 seconds. Repeat. It's a 5 second box that helps your entire nervous system calm down. The only problem I found with this one is that you can't really count while the listening attentively so you kind of need to guess at the intervals, but none-the-less, it works.
At the end of your arms are your hands. When your hands wave about you become excited. Or maybe you become excited because you wave your arms about. Either way, try and restrict your arms to a limited space and your hands will stay calm. You can further assist this process by placing your palms on the table in front of you. Keep them facing down on the table or on your lap. Only move them to join them. This stops you from pointing, waving, gesturing, slapping your forehead or whatever you usually do with them that help you express how utterly exacerbated you are with the customer's decision.
LISTEN UNTIL THE END
I get asked a lot, "How can I listen to customer's better?" While there are some techniques we can discuss, there is a simple suggestion - let them finish talking ! Listening to someone's complete sentence is once of the greatest signs of respect you can show to another human being only because cutting them off mid-sentence is one of the worst signs of disrespect.
It is very easy for us to know that we have heard this before. The "I know where this is going again" mindset kicks in because we want to keep the ball moving, but when we cut people off, that person doesn't feel heard. Listening to the end of someone's sentence also has us contemplate our response for that little bit longer which may also help you formulate a calmer and more precise response. Take the time and let your brain do what it is good at, "think"!
And finally, focus on your tone. With your breathing under control, your arms in close proximity to your body and your attention on allowing someone to complete their sentence, you will find that your tone is much easier to control. This keeps the meeting at a cordial level. Of course, things can still get agitated but as they do, you have all the right mechanisms in place to absorb it, think and respond in a tone that is calm and constructive.
And that is the point of BALT. Difficult conversations are exactly that, "difficult". It is far too easy for them to go sideways and end up in a situation where the decisions we make within them are not the ones we wished that we had made once we are out of them. To be more effective at this the BALT process will help you get more achieved and with less agita.
The Pragmatism of the PS Principles
Michael Snyder is a veteran in the professional services field and is one of the lead architects for Insight, a global systems integrator, who is also one of the mentors in his company's PSCC program. His article was created as apart of the program's requirements for senior participants to become thought leaders in their areas of expertise.
Do you want to strike fear into the hearts and being of a group of technical professionals? It’s simple really, just tell them:
"Consultants are coming in to work on this project."
Let’s walk back the opening assertion just a bit: not everyone will be fearful when consultants, contractors or specialists are engaged for a project. But when sharing experiences, people cite poor outcomes more often and more loudly than good outcomes. Stories of others’ pain stick more persistently with people than stories of others’ joy.
The PS Principles program is targeting the specialist, the consultant, the person who applies talents and expertise as an independent participant in delivering results. As a participant in the program, I have found it endlessly useful in guiding how I conduct myself in leading or participating in customer projects. This article is my avenue for sharing some experiences and perspective using PS Principles as a foundation in my delivery.
Let’s start with a quote and assertion that states core points in delivering a result:
"When you establish a destination by defining what you want, then take physical action by making choices that move you towards that destination, the possibility for success is limitless and arrival at the destination is inevitable."
- Steve Maraboli, 'Life, The Truth, And Being Free'
The quotation starts with what I believe is the most important element of the PS Principles framework: know what “Done” looks like. Over the course of projects I’ve engaged since starting the PS Principles program, I have found establishing a clear vision and definition of the result gives clarity of where we’re going. When obstacles are encountered (regardless of being situational or conditional) having that vision and definition provides the perspective to navigate beyond the obstacle. That might be over it, under it, around it, through it, and even occasionally going back some distance to establish a different course.
The next clause of the quotation is all about what a consultant brings to an effort, applying action toward the destination. This is a continuous effort of applying focus, accountability, attention to detail, and skills in your daily contributions.
The effort also requires a vigilance of how things are proceeding and to identify any new or developing risks to arriving at the destination. The PS Principles tenet that states this clearly is have difficult conversations early. There are lots of metaphors and quaint sayings: “a stitch in time saves nine” is cited as found in literature as early as 1723. This is not in itself a new concept, but it is absolutely critical within the PS Principles framework.
These last two paragraphs roll up to build and grow a valuable intangible asset in your relationship with a customer: trust. If you as the consultant, the expert, apply these attributes consistently and constantly through the engagement, the customer will build a trust level in your abilities and results. The longer and more consistently delivered, the deeper the trust level established.
One outcome of participating in the program for me has been the realization that “I already knew all this”. I did, but I must acknowledge I knew these elements as isolated concepts and attributes. The value of assembling all these concepts into a single model and each element having relationships and effects on the other elements has made the program especially powerful in use for me.
The title of this article contains the word “pragmatism”, and I’m now circling back to that. In my experiences, learning and conditioning myself to the PS Principles philosophy and framework has improved my confidence in engaging customers, improved quality and efficiency of results to the customers, and has created repeat customer engagements based on a prior delivered engagement. The pragma here in my case is that it works, therefore I need to continue using and engaging the framework and its philosophy. Any other course is not productive nor practical.
The best way I can encourage others to participate in this is to offer my experiences (as I have here), and to close with a quotation of another person who I’ve admired for what they’ve shared with the world:
"You don't have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great." -Zig Ziglar
Written by Michael Snyder 2023