Olympics…..We’re Dooooooomed!!!! Jubilee….We’re Dooooooomder!!!!

April 25, 2012

The Delivery Demon isn’t really much of a spectator so she didn’t bother tying up her credit card limit in the fiasco of Olympic ticket sales. Why put all that effort into a lottery level probability of seeing an event that might be of some slight interest? She stood back from that, leaving the remote chance of getting a ticket to those who really wanted to watch. As the chaos was delivered, she felt a few pangs of sympathy to those sportspeople who, even if they managed to get tickets, had very little opportunity of getting tickets to see the sports they actually participate in. The whole setup seemed pretty half-baked.

Beyond some vague plans to avoid the areas of transport mayhem during the Olympics, the DeliveryDemon has tended to ignore the media hype, but a recurring theme has been carping for her attention in news reports. There seems to be a developing assumption that the Olympics, like the equally-hyped Jubilee, will damage the economy. The DeliveryDemon recollects some reference to think tanks in those reports but a cursory web search hasn’t provided any hard evidence, so perhaps the reporters concerned are inventing or misinterpreting. Whatever the case, the DeliveryDemon has become interested in what those reports imply.

The general theme is that workers will be taking holidays and days off, will be surreptitiously following the events on their mobiles and their work PCs, will be spending long lunches in pubs, watching events unfold. Transport chaos will make people late for work. Workers will be tired and hungover from late night TV watching and alcoholic celebrations. Production will plummet, customer service will suffer, the economy will drag its way into another recession. Two big events in a single year? We’re all doooooomed!!!

So what are the facts behind the scaremongering?

  • Yes, people will want time off – they usually do in the summer. But it may be easier to achieve a spread of holiday dates as a significant number of people may choose to avoid holidaying during the Olympic peak times – much as many people avoid taking their break during school holidays.
  • Transport chaos? Commuters are used to this but it’s likely to have a worse than usual impact on venue access routes and the air and rail hubs which serve them. That’s not the whole country, and the areas concerned have a relatively high concentration of work which can be carried out remotely with a little bit of forethought.
  • People will spend more than they plan then cut back after the event? Pretty normal for any holiday type event, except that the spend will be in the UK.

So far, so normal. No reason to predict a recessive impact from normal human behaviour. So what might these pundits be suggesting?

  • All that well-paid Olympics work will disappear in the aftermath, true. Why should that be a surprise to anyone?
  • In some – but not all – businesses, less work will be done during the various events and celebrations. Really?
  • There will be a fairly heavy demand for time off during the peak period. A bit like Christmas and the school holidays. After all, people work to live, not the other way round.

Either the reporters who come up with these doom-laden headlines lack the most elementary understanding of business planning, or they are trying to deliver the message that UK management is so lacking in basic business skills that the entire country went down the plughole years ago.

The DeliveryDemon wishes that those recruiting for media positions would realise that those jobs have a need for basic commonsense and the ability to use data sensibly.

Delivering Stakeholder Management

June 14, 2011

It’s relatively easy to identify most stakeholders. Once they have been identified it’s relatively easy to put together a communication plan which allows you to tell them what they need to know. The plan can include two way communication events such as requirements analysis, Q&A events, document reviews and user tests. These are all part of the tried and tested approach to stakeholder management.

Rather more difficult is the management of stakeholder expectations. The project manager can issue crystal clear bulletins about what has been agreed and what is actually happening. At some point these butt up against stakeholder assumptions, recollections and aspirations. The bits which match will bolster the stakeholder’s world view. The bits which don’t match may provoke a reaction. If they do, that’s all to the good as it allows the project manager to identify and deal with any mismatch between the project as agreed and stakeholder expectations. But not all readers will bother to react. The danger comes when stakeholders skim project communications for the bits which confirm their expectations and ignore the rest. Then expectations may begin to diverge substantially from the project aims. Once that happens to any extent the project will never be a success. It may deliver to scope, cost and timescale but it won’t be viewed as successful because it’s not delivering what stakeholders have come to expect.

For a project manager to become a good stakeholder manager, it’s necessary to look beyond the project’s formal structured communication, and apply the black arts of expectation analysis and expectation management. Catch a straying expectation before it’s far from the straight and narrow and it’s easy to nudge it back on course. Let it stray long enough to become feral and you may not catch it in the lifetime of the project.

Becoming a curator of expectations requires a diverse set of skills, but the core skill is networking. Informal chats can alert the project manager to straying expections much more quickly than any formal discussion. It’s not just the obvious stakeholders who can be useful sources of information. Other projects and BAU targets may hide a reliance on invalid expectations, and people may set such targets as a means of pressurising a project to change its remit.

Sometimes divergent expectations arise because the business has moved on from the original project requirements, and the project may need to change in order to deliver business benefits.

It may not be easy to decide whether expectations should be brought in line or the project changed to meet expectations. This is where stakeholder management feeds into risk and issue management, and through that to the broader project governance and sponsorship if it appears that problems are going beyond the authority delegated to the project manager.

You can, in isolation, deliver a project which meets all its objectives. But unless you step outside the ivory tower and keep abreast of events in the wider context the project may not be seen to be successful. That’s why a project manager needs a taste for coffee, beer and cocktails, not to mention a tolerance for the smoky, windy conditions endured by the huddles which gather outside the doors of most office buildings.

Slavery in the Modern Commercial World

June 2, 2011

Slave – a person legally owned by another and having no freedom of action, according to the DeliveryDemon’s dictionary. The slave formed part of the wealth of the master, and was often used to generate more wealth. Supposedly slavery has been outlawed in most areas of the modern world, but is this true, or has it been replaced by a more subtle equivalent?

Suppose a company is sold in its entirety, or decides to sell some or all of its book of business. You, the customer, can be sold as part of that deal irrespective of whether you would choose to deal with the buying company. If you have a long term contract for a service such as utility supply, it is highly unlikely that any such sale will trigger a get-out clause in your contract. But the selling company is making money by selling you.

If your employer is sold, again you have no freedom of action. Some roles may be made redundant, others retained. If you occupy a retained role which is unchanged by the takeover you have no right to redundancy, not even if the new employer is one you might never have chosen to work for. Again the seller makes money by selling you.

The bureaucracy collects data on its citizens. Should you be born, or marry, divorce, or die, it becomes a matter of record and those personal details can be sold. Should you become a company director, your details may be sold. Should you decide to exercise your right to vote, your details will be sold unless you opt out, and that doesn’t provide a 100% guarantee. If you require hospital treatment, the consent form hides a proviso that your details will be passed on to a commercial benchmarking organisation called Dr Foster. Yes, our bureaucracy is selling our personal information.

Try being economically active, and it’s no longer a matter of exchanging currency for goods. The seller will move heaven and earth to acquire as much data as they can about you in order to boost their profits. We have become so used to loyalty cards we no longer think of how these little plastic objects are used to capture our likes and dislikes so that we can be targeted with marketing. Buying car insurance? Try doing that without giving away details of your house insurance. Buy a one-off gift online from Mothercare for a friend’s new baby and you have to set up an account which demands a much wider range of details than are needed for the transaction. Set up an Amazon account and every time you log in your transaction history is used to try and make you buy Amazon’s own products and that of the many organisations which use Amazon as a trading platform. Buy an iPhone and you give Apple a record of your movements.

Organisations tend to justify the commercial extraction of your data by saying it is used to give you a better shopping experience. In the DeliveryDemon’s experience, most people are capable of making their own shopping decisions. And targeted marketing models are usually based on such unsophisticated assumptions that random recommendations may well be as effective as their targeted suggestions. The only exception the DeliveryDemon has noticed is in the case of small specialist organisations whose principals have a great deal in common with their customer base.

So who’s making money out of you? And are they paying you for the value they get from you?

Hey Evil Google – It’s a WORLDWIDE Web!!!!

January 18, 2011

The DeliveryDemon now uses www.bing.com for web searches. Google is definitely out of favour. Why? Every time the DeliveryDemon tries to make www.google.com her home page, Google insists on forcing her to use www.google.co.uk  Not just that, they insist on noting her machine’s current physical location, which is none of their business and usually completely irrelevant to her web searches.

The DeliveryDemon has nothing against UK websites – it’s horses for courses, or in this case, URLs for searches. And when the DeliveryDemon does a web search she usually wants access to the riches of worldwide information sources.

Google claims that:

‘Google Web Search is customized for a number of countries and regions across the world. For example, Google.fr provides search results that are most relevant for users in France; Google.co.jp is the Google domain for Japan. We try to direct users to the site that will give them the most relevant results.’

Let’s question a few of the assumptions behind that statement.

  • Anyone doing a technical search wants the views of the guy down the road, not the expert working for a global organisation.
  • If you’re going to a restaurant, you’re more likely to need to be told about the restaurant you see every day in your local high street than about one in a foreign capital you’re about to visit on a business trip.
  • If you’re a local yokel living outside the .com region you don’t deserve to be given information about international brands at the top of your search results.
  • Search engines exist to enforce geographical limitations.
  • Google knows what everyone’s thinking, so it can make decisions on their behalf rather than offering options.

 Pretty stupid, yes?

Actually, even when it’s trying to enforce geographical apartheid, Google’s about as good at it as it is at making assumptions about what people want. Using Google’s enforced UK site, the DeliveryDemon did a search on the name of a famous Scottish location which is one of only two dozen global locations to be awarded World Heritage Status for both natural and cultural significance. What did Google’s UK localised search come up with? An entire page of results relating to a suburb of Melbourne, Australia!

If you find Google’s apartheid as annoying as the DeliveryDemon does, there is a workaround. Make your home page http://www.google.com/ncr and you won’t be forced into using Google’s substandard localised search engines. If you do this, Google installs cookies on your machine. The DeliveryDemon has yet to find out what those cookies do – she might just stick with Bing!