More notes from Managing the Professional Service Firm

Issues in motivating each other…

  • There is a spiral effect among
    • Motivation
    • Productivity and quality
    • Economic success
    • Marketplace success
  • Honesty is very important in recruiting. It creates the right match between position and employee so the person’s motivation emerges naturally
  • Firms should have slightly more work than staff to maintain an atmosphere of challenge
  • Professionals are smart and want a variety of challenges. They usually have Impostor Syndrome
  • Professionals need a meaningful understanding of their work
  • And to be reminded that all of the work is important
  • Outplacement is not just humanitarian, but a compliment to up-or-out and a way to build the network


I recently thought it’d be nice for digital video recorders like TiVo to access parts of programs, so if I wanted to see that one joke from a movie, not the whole movie, I could find it. Just tag and syndicate the video, right? Webjay Brett Singer has the seeds of an implementation, publishing clips of news video. Webjay creator Lucas Gonze calls it broadcatching.

Categorized as Video

Your job will be offshored

In the next decade, many design jobs will move offshore. If you think I’m wrong, if you think this is preposterous, then talk to out-of-work programmers who thought the same thing only five years ago. But Victor, you protest, someone can’t do user research from 4000 miles away. To this I’d say, most companies aren’t doing user research anyway. Good-enough design is good-enough to most companies, and good-enough design can be done offshore.

Paul Ford, in Outsourcing, Etc., says, ‘I’m struck by the irony that the tools, networks, and protocols built over the last 40 years by programmers are the exact mechanism that allows these jobs to move overseas.‘ The same is true for design, as we write about design, critique each other’s work, and release our tools for those overseas to learn from. Furthermore, when we offshore our programming work, we send them our designs, we explain our designs, and in doing so we educate offshore workers in design. They’re probably getting a better case study-based education than many of us have had.

India, for example, has a new, growing middle class that will absorb the jobs that we won’t be able to fill in the coming years. Already firms right here in New York City have difficulty finding entry-level web design workers. You’d think recent college graduates would love a job in this industry, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.

Mind you, I don’t think this is a bad thing, it is simply the ways things are. If we recognize this now and prepare our skills accordingly (i.e. move up in the problem-solving food chain) we’ll protect our ability to earn a living. Brett Lider has some good ideas along these lines.


More notes from Managing the Professional Service Firm

On coaching…

  • Coaching is even more important when the market for employees is constrained.
  • The best management is not the most intelligent or the highest skilled, but the best at coaching. They can make people feel special and focus their talents.
  • Use the Socratic method to stimulate thought.
  • Senior people coaching junior people is another form of leverage.
  • Maister does the math and shows it’s more profitable for managers to spend their time coaching than to do their own work.

Manager’s performance should be measured by

  • the aggregate performance of the group they manage
  • 360 degree feedback

He goes on to say more about managing, that he finds there’s a big difference between the duties of a professional and a manager of professionals. The entire chapter is good, but in summary managers should be…

  • patient
  • willing to give credit to others
  • good leaders in tough times

Balanced design

In the past I’ve said that design is a conversation, a dialog that should be enjoyable for all parties. Last night at the NYC IA Salon we discussed a similar idea, where the designer creates something that either benefits the client, the customer, or both.

For example, Bella mentioned how some desks at the U.S. Library of Congress are slanted, with glass over the wood and no ledge at the bottom. This keeps anything harmful from being placed or spilled on the wood. It also keeps books from staying on the desks. James calls this slanty, design that purposefully reduces functionality. An even-handed solution would have protected the wood and provided an enjoyable surface to work on.

Statements of design goals like usable, useful, and desirable only describe the user’s experience. Return on investment only describes the business benefits. Design is a conversation that should benefit all parties. If a slanty design only benefits one party, then a balanced design benefits all parties.

Of course, people will have different understandings of what is balanced. But having a term makes it easier to discuss where the balance lies. ‘Well Bob, this design isn’t as slanty as before, but it’s still unbalanced. How about a revised handle that fits the hand better but is still inexpensive to assemble because it’s all one piece?

Flash for planning design

Someone – not sure who – makes a compelling argument for using Flash for planning designs rather than Visio. It might also help collapse some of the distance between direct and indirect design; the planning tool is also the prototyping tool. This is a good thing for at least two reasons:

  • Interactive media are dynamic; it’s difficult to use paper to plan designs
  • Indirect design in some firms has gone too far. Work that should be prototyped and iterated is analyzed instead, which can be less effective in finding what works and mitigating risks
Categorized as Tools

Building your assets

More notes from Managing the Professional Service Firm

Ways to build your assets as a consultant:

Learn by reflecting on recent work

  • alone (e.g. journal)
  • with your team
  • with your client
  • with your peers
  • with your mentor

Apprentiships are the most effective way of developing knowledge and skill. Depending on the company culture, balance apprentiships with a Darwinian system where initiative is rewarded.

Your assets: six lessons

More notes from Managing the Professional Service Firm

Your assets as a consultant basically boil down to your knowledge, technical skill, counseling skill, and the depth of your client relationships.

Six lessons about your assets as a consultant:

  1. Your existing knowledge and skills will depreciate in value
  2. The health of your career has less to do with the volume of business you do than with the type of work you do and the type of clients you do it for
  3. When you take control of your own business development, you take control of your own career development
  4. The same is true of asset development
  5. Balance using your existing skills with developing new skills
  6. Marketing to existing clients is the best way to build your assets

Build experience through industry depth first, then breadth of clients

Skill in counseling consists of activities such as facilitating groups, building consensus, resolving political conflicts, etc.

You not only want to solve problems, you want to educate the client.

Storm King

View of Storm King Art Center

Really, it’s how museums should be. The Storm King Art Center, situated on the mountain of the same name, is 500 acres of gorgeous former farm land, now creatively farmed with long grasses and devoted to the display of sculpture. We visited on a perfect Spring day and I can’t imagine a more beautiful place. It’s about an hour north of New York City and for me will lessen all other museum experiences. Wear comforable shoes and pack a picnic lunch.

More photos

Categorized as Art

Managing the marketing effort

More notes from Managing the Professional Service Firm

  • Organize and reward marketing efforts as you do billable time
  • Different activities require different skills, so allocate them to people according to ability and preference
  • Form small teams, each focused on one type of marketing
  • Ask everyone to devote the same minimum time to it
  • Include junior staff

Worker-to-worker offshoring

Brett proposes the idea of worker-to-worker offshoring:

Just imagine: you get assigned to do two days of … competitive site audits for a pitch. Ugh. Why not sub-shore the work, W2W-style and take the day[s] off? It costs $15-20/hour…

I think PeterV has done this before, offshoring some personal programming work to a PHP programmer in India. I know it’d be nice to never have to do a content inventory again. Of course, we’d be training the offshore workers to do our jobs, but I think that’s inevitable. Move upstream.

(You know what I’d really like — and the socialist in me feels rather guilty about this — is a personal assistant. Boy, if I just had someone to take care of all the administrative crap in my life, I’d have time for, well, all the other crap (hopefully upstream crap). Could that possibly be offshored?)

MT’s Innovator’s Dilemma

OK, just one more blogger-blogging-about-blogging-tools post and then I’m done. We might view the MT price increase through the lens of the innovator’s dilemma. They moved upmarket, and the open source, free, and otherwise interesting competitors suddenly looked like compelling options to those of us on the leading edge of the blog tool curve.

What if SixApart had released MT as open source at the same time they started charging for it? It would basically follow the Red Hat model: get the raw (e.g. Linux) functionality for free but pay for easier installation, more features, and support. For companies, it’s a no brainer expense, and the rest of us happily run our software for free. It’s quite hard to convince our brains to accept the risk of giving away the software, but we’re starting to see enough examples to learn from experience.

Categorized as Blogs

Attracting new clients

More notes from Managing the Professional Service Firm

Raspberry Jam Rule: the further you spread your marketing tactics, the thinner they get.

It’s always better to demonstrate than to assert.

In-person, individualized methods are always better than broadcasting.

  • The first team
    • Seminars (small-scale)
    • Speeches at client-industry meetings
    • Articles in client-oriented (trade) press
    • Proprietary research
  • The second string
    • Community/civic activities
    • Networking with potential referral sources
    • Newsletters
  • Clutching at straws tactics
    • Publicity
    • Brochures
    • Seminars (ballroom scale)
    • Direct mail
    • Cold calls
    • Sponsorship of cultural/sports events
    • Advertising
    • Video brochures