I just got off a massive conference call  for a client with 20+ other people. It’s noteworthy to me that calls like this take place, especially when the 20 people come from 20 different departments. It’s also understandable that people might be annoyed when pulled from their daily routine for a call regarding a unique event that’s about to happen that they may have a very minor role in. The main facilitator for this particular call is a co-consultant from another vendor. He about got ripped to shreds by the more senior people on the call for things like pausing to take notes or simply just taking a while to get around to the point of his questions. Poor Guy. I might be tempted to say that these types of meetings can be evened out with detailed objective documentation. This guy took it too far in that regard as well. He sends out documents multiple times a day with filenames about 150 characters long. Emails go to 25 people with all the thread history embedded in the message. The documents themselves are just list on list on list… I’m on the fringe of involvement myself. I’m annoyed – not to the point of being hostile – but I certainly wish I could ignore what’s going on.

This type of situation makes me reflect on my own communication style, and the general communication style we coach in my company. I’ve come up with these insights:

  • Meetings should be for the benefit of those participating. If an attendee won’t be directly acting based on the entirety of the topic discussed or won’t be expected to raise questions or concerns about the overll topic, they probably don’t need to be in the meeting. Side meetings or email conversations can extract a lot of information that can be recorded and reported by a central moderator.
  • When speaking, be clear about who you are speaking to and end every comment with a directive or question.
  • Summary documents are useful, but only when action items or outliers are clearly identified. I think a stoplight solution is great way to show what is at risk.
  • If you, as a facilitator, have concerns, it is best to approach the owner of those items offline first instead of the public forum.
  • The telephone is still a useful tool.
  • A picture is worth a 1000 words. I love Visio diagrams to show relationships. Nothing says “This is where the failure point is going to be” better than a big red X on a flow chart or system diagram.
  • Don’t impose your organization methods on everyone else. If you feel you need to catalog every email, do it in a way that will not clutter everyone else’s email box with superfluous subject lines, etc
  • Most people are smart, just busy.

Just some thoughts. Hopefully they are good reminders.

Twitter for MBAs

March 24, 2009

My school chum, Brian Gracely, does a great job summarizing Twitter with a summary on usage and a summary of Twitter’s business. I know there are a ton of tutorials on Twitter out there, but this might give you a glimpse on what we’re talking about in B-school. 

As you may be able to tell, I use Twitter to supplement this blog and to try to put a personal face on my company. I’m also in the process of kicking off a corporate Twitter presence, but I’m still trying to figure out the strategy there. Vision Point Systems is by no means in the mass market, so I can’t take the approach of the Starbucks or the JetBlue‘s of the world. I suppose my goal is benefit from associations with the rest of the local Twitterverse. 

I’m open to suggestions.

I had an interesting meeting today. 

I met a gentleman – I’ll call him RP for now – last week at a networking event in Roanoke. He gave his pitch as doing marketing and “i-commerce” consulting. It seemed pretty tangential to what VPS does, so I didn’t think too much of it when he called me later in the week saying he had some consulting work that was out of scope for him and he was looking for a local partner to help him fill a gap. He spoke in pretty generic terms, but it sounded like the kind of opportunities that can be lucrative for a consulting company like ours. 

So I met him today in Roanoke at a coffee shop. He showed up late so I had already bought my own coffee. Once we get to talking he gives me a spiel on marketing and how Ebay and Amazon make money because their brand does the work for them. True enough. To his question of “What does eBay sell?”, my answer of “an opportunity for buyers and sellers to get together” seemed to surprise him as the best answer he’s ever received.  After that he gets into how he’s got affiliation deals for product reviews for big companies like Circuit City, ahem, etc. He also briefly comments on some “exclusivity deals” on products his unnamed company sells, but makes sure to gloss over that part of the conversation quickly. 

Finally, he gets into the “for only 4 hours a week you can make $500 a month; 3 years after that you could be making $10,000 and in just 5 years you could be bringing in $150,000 a month,” part of the conversation. After politely declining his offer to set me up in a webinar, he quickly packs his briefcase and walks out the door. I never got a business card or brochure on what his organization is. 

I guess this is interesting to me because it seems so unnecessary. If you have to deceive people to even work for you, I don’t want to imagine the deception that would go on in “customer” interaction. I’ve been around other legitimate business people to know that good, trustworthy relationships are what get you far. I guess I’m also surprised that there are likely to be people who sign up for this type of thing thinking it’s a shortcut. It’s always a way to make money “on the side” – probably because anyone involved knows a “job” like this wouldn’t be taken seriously on a resume. 

I’m tempted to call the guy out, but I’m not sure what good that does for anyone. The best I can tell he has no web presence. I suppose I’ll leave him to the shadows he’s been lurking in so far.

Today’s IT Management for MBA’s class had one interesting takeaway for me: a list of complaints companies typically have with IT vendors. The list, as adapted from a 2007 Forrester Research study is basically as follows:

  • Cost savings not as much as expected
  • Inability to respond to changing business needs
  • Inflexibility towards price, volume or scope changes
  • Not enough time invested by the vendor towards making the contract successful
  • Not enough effort towards continuous improvement
  • Lack of cooperation with other vendors or suppliers
  • Poor or inconsistent quality

I read this list as good checklist for what a company like Vision Point Systems should be pitching to all potential and current clients. I believe we already do a good job of incorporating the tenants associated with avoiding these mistakes into our business culture, and that this is a main reason for our success in the face of competition from other larger and more established IT consulting companies. I’ll certainly be sure to emphasize these aspects even more from here on out.

Vision Point Systems will be attending a few career fairs this spring. First up is the Spring Lifestyle and Career Fair in Roanoke this Wednesday March 4. We know how the last one went. Now that my expectations are set, I think I’ll be prepared to handle it better. I think the press that the last even recieved will lead to an even greater turnout this time. Hopefully, the increase in overall volume will lead to at least a corresponding increase in volume in technical talent.

The second career fair we’ll be attending is Directions at Virigina Tech on March 17. This will hopefully give us a chance to connect with the emerging Hokies directly. We’ve had a lot of success with recent graduates out of Virginia Tech and we’re looking to really make sure we’ve got our name in front of the proper people down there.

As far as positions, we’re currently looking for:

  • Software Applications Developer (web-heavy, strong in CSS and javascript)
  • System Administration Intern (summer, Linux-heavy)
  • System Analyst (Testing, QA, Writing, etc)

If you or someone you know could be a good fit, come check us out at one of these events!