The Clearing

Once in a while the Monopoly game of life tosses us Second Prize in a Beauty Contest card. Last night, courtesy of the nice people at the New Yorker and Johnny Walker, I saw a preview of the film The Clearing with Robert Redford, Willem Dafoe and Helen Mirren. The plot was thriller, but the genre was drama, focusing more on the characters than the suspense, which was fine with me as the extensive dialog between Redford and Dafoe is music to the ears. The event included hor d’oeuvres and scotch (of course) and capped off with a Q&A session with director Pieter Jan Brugge and writer Justin Haythe, all in the theater of the Tribeca Grand hotel. It all felt very priviledged and very New York.

CMS Playground

I used to say CMS user interfaces were developing slowly because, like intranets, they were all behind the firewall. But I’m wrong, opensourceCMS has many CMS packages installed for you to try out and learn from. An excellent resource.

Internet Appliance

On Matt’s blog I found a place to raise my freak Internet appliance flag, ‘If we look at what people actually use PCs for, there’s a bell curve that includes email, web, digital photos, and a couple other things. Why not spend $299 for that? ‘. He points me to the Emailer plus: emailing and surfing for $60. At that price point, it’s less about replacing the PC than complimenting the PC and replacing the landline phone.

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Service and Work

More notes from Managing the Professional Service Firm

  • He points out that the work is only part of the consultant’s service. We are also judged on our responsiveness, attitude, manner, etc. When the quality of the work product is difficult to measure (as with consulting advice), the service aspect is actually more important than the work product. A great lawyer may lose a case and still retain a client. Troublesome architects rarely get their buildings built.
  • If you question if you really need to work this hard on service, think about the vendors you use – accountants, doctors, etc. – don’t you wish they provided this kind of service?

Lately, since reading this, I see every business I patronize through this lens. Some firms are able to deliver consistently lousy service simply because of supply and demand, or location, but not forever.

Conversational Design

Peterme-the-guru created a drum to beat, ‘Through my work, what I’ve observed is that the web is all about managing expectations . Setting expectations, and then fulfilling them. That’s it. You do that right, and you’re golden. The term I have right now for dealing with this is Explicit Design’

An excellent drum, one that needs beating. Jess chimes in with complementary thoughts and a great experience cycle model.

Everyone should have a drum, as Peter says it reflects your perspective on the world and reveals new ways of seeing situations. Currently mine is Conversational Design. Not too long ago I wrote about IA as Conversation which explains it, and recently wrote this:

Converse with Customers
Navigation is a way of conversing with customers, as if the interface were saying, “We sell designer fashions at affordable prices. I can show them to you, or if you like you can learn more about the company…” We speak with our parents, children, friends and colleagues all in different ways. To a child we are patient and instructional, and when we’re flirting we’re attractive and coy. We should similarly tailor our interaction with our customers. Conversing consists of two qualities: conveying information and saying it with a certain style…

Much more soon.

Practice Development Activities

More notes from Managing the Professional Service Firm

  • He identifies 3 vital categories of practice development (i.e. marketing) activities and what percentage of time to spend on each:
    • Broadcasting (writing papers) – 10%
    • Courting (forming a client relationship) – 25-40%
    • Superpleasing (Going beyond satisfaction to delight) – 10-15%
    • Nurturing (Spending extra, non-billable time to understand client needs) 30-35%
    • Listening (…to the market, to develop services) – 10-15%
  • ROI – via word-of-mouth – and Broadcasting the lowest ROI.
  • Identifies a few ways of listening:
    • User groups (review future development ideas with a group of clients)
    • Reverse seminars (have client come in to talk to us)
    • Attending client industry meetings (with the client)
    • Market research
    • Senior partner visits
    • Engagement team debriefings
    • Systematic client feedback (e.g. survey)

The cost of software

Interesting that a price policy in something as relatively low cost as blog software has spurred such good thinking about price policies. Mark Pilgram gives us the long-term view: ‘In the long run, the utility of all non-Free software approaches zero. All non-Free software is a dead end… It’s not about money; it’s about freedom.

And Mark Bernstein gives us the short-term view: ‘The only thing I expect, if I’m paying $700 for a software package, is that it be worth $700. If I buy a $700 program, and it promptly saves me $750, I’m as happy as a clam.

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Irony was cited as a trait of my generation, but it seems even stronger in the upcoming generation, increasingly reality-show self-aware. Is this a trend, growing irony over time?

Douglas Coupland, author of Gen X, later said, ‘When you’re younger, you think a little irony is all you need. You think it’ll get you to the grave, but it won’t. Loss always seeps through. You do need to deal with it.‘ Can the jolt of reality still counter irony when reality itself is mocked?

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Profitability vs. Health

More notes from Managing the Professional Service Firm

  • Rather than focusing on chargability and realization reports, look at profits per partner.
  • For each activity the firm strives to improve (e.g. delagate better, develop higher value services) examine how each contributes to both short-term profitability and long-term health.
  • These activities, in order of importance to health, are
    • Raise prices
    • Lower variable (delivery) costs
    • Fix underperformers
    • Increase volume
    • Lower overhead costs
  • is so important and offers a systematic method for improving it.

A Firm’s Mix of Consultants and Projects

As mentioned last week, I’m reading David H. Maister’s Managing the Professional Service Firm, and it’s very very very good. I’ll post some summaries here, though it’s almost a sin to summarize it as his writing is already clear and concise.

Staff falls in 3 basic levels: Partner, Manager, and Consultant.

He identifies 3 main types of projects:

  • Brains (require extensive expertise, little can be reused)
  • Grey Hair (requires experience, some can be reused), and
  • Procedure (familiar problem, much is reused).

The right staffing mix is needed for the project mix, e.g. more Partners for Brains projects, more Consultants for Procedure projects. Over time, you need to factor in how consultants are to be promoted, what kind of projects you attract, and how that affects the mix.

Blog software mayhem

My MT Alternatives post back on May 6 turns out to be prescient, with Movable Type upping their prices and competitors finally coming out of the wood work. Regarding MT’s prices, mostly I’m disappointed in the we-want-everything-for-free attitude of the complainers (heard before when Blogger had load and security issues), I thought that went away with the dot com crash. The MT folks worked long and hard to do something better, gave a lot of it away for nothing, and now the competitors are standing on their shoulders. If folks want to switch, fine, but spare us the whining.

The issue is summarized nicely by Liz Lawley.

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Play sound!

So I’ve got this big, expensive computing machine under my desk that’s capable of generating some serious music, and yet out of the box it’s rather difficult to get it to play anything at all. Sometimes all I need is the A below middle C to tune my guitar, ya know? I found Audacity which helped me generate 30 seconds of such a note. iTunes converted it into a 400k AAC file, and now you can download 220Hz.m4a for your tuning pleasure (you’ll probably need to right click/control click to save it).

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I’m trying to forumulate my rationale to myself of why I don’t want a piece of the Google IPO. It has something to do with 1) IPOs are bad for companies in general, 2) Google has explicitly warned it won’t try to make returns in the short term. Given that Google took the search crown in the short term, someone else is just as likely to take it away, and 3) I can’t perceive much difference between their showcase product and Yahoo’s.

While I’m getting those thoughts straight, see their soul-sucking new blog, and their counter-philosophy new banner ads. Those Morgan Stanley folks really know how to whip a company into shape!

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