Pat Egen’s Weblog

Ramblings, chats, thoughts, ideas

Archive for February 2009

Black holes and Boomerangs

leave a comment »

Today I’m writing a blog entry that’s a departure from topics I normally write about.  A while ago I wrote an article for a newsletter and I called it “Black holes and Boomerangs.”  The article was about managing projects.

All of us at some point have either managed people or projects or have been the recipients of project assignments. And, we’ve all witnessed projects that fail or are delayed for a variety of reasons.  What I’m going to talk about today are two types that can really be time drains or hurt a company.

Let me first explain what I mean by the title.  We’ll start with Boomerangs.  These are the projects that start out fine.  For example, you give someone a project, you give them what you feel is enough information to manage the project, and two weeks later, the project ends up back on your desk, unfinished.  Reasons for this are often “I couldn’t figure out what you wanted” or “I couldn’t make this work” or “I can’t do this project.”   Two weeks have passed and you are no further along and you end up having to do the work or spend time figuring out what you need to do in order for the other person to handle the project.  I’ll talk more about this a bit later.

On to Black holes.  These are my least favorite of the two – if favorite is a proper word for this.  Black hole projects are just what they sound like.  These are projects or tasks that go out into a blackhole and are never heard from again.  Ever.  They are not completed.  You hear no status reports.  Nothing.  Nada.  Typically, a weekly status report or a staff meeting can handle this but in a busy office, there may not be time for those.  So, these projects fall off the radar scope until you get irate phone calls from clients.  Sigh.

So, how do you handle these black holes and boomerangs.  Carefully.  In some cases, depending on the person, I’ve discovered there is no solution. Well, there is one – you don’t assign projects to those people.  But, to me, that’s giving in.  My mission is to get the work done.  And, I want that person to succeed as well.  If that happens, it’s a win for everyone, and it’s especially gratifying to me to see this happen.

Here’s some tips I’ve uncovered over the course of trying to solve these project pitfalls.

Does the person who has been given the task have all the details they need.  Do they have the authority to do what they need to do without coming back to you to ask questions. In particular, if something else comes up, can that person judge which project to work on first.  Balancing workloads can be easy for some, but not for others.  Some people simply cannot multi-task.  When they discover they are behind one solution is to return the project saying they can’t work on it. If you know you have someone who falls into this category, then the right thing to do is only assign projects to them when you know they can devote time to the project.  This may be tough in a small office, but it beats having the project languish and then reappear in two weeks no further along then when you started.  This same person can often be guilty of the blackhole syndrome.  It’s easier to just let it sit on the pile then say something.  Hopefully, nobody will notice it’s not done and it will go away all by itself.

Another reason tasks go astray is because of not setting expectations.  Does everyone understand the project and is everyone aware of the deadline?  Did you actually say “this needs to be done by this date?”  Projects with no deadline or priority end up being just that – low priority.  If they have no deadline, it means “oh, I can work on this later” and no priority means “oh, this is not that important and I can wait a bit.”  However, if a project is assigned, there has to be some kind of deadline or it didn’t need to be done at all.  The message here is don’t assume anything.  Make sure everyone involved is aware of the due dates and assign some level of priority to the project so you can then do load balancing of the work.  I have a saying here – if it makes us money it comes first.  That’s an over-generalization but it’s a start.  We all get sucked into time draining wormholes like email, newsgroups, research, internet sites, and the list goes on.  Now add Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin to the equation and you can see where it gets tough to balance your workschedule.

If you don’t have time for staff meetings, then put a reminder in your tickler file, calendar application or CRM system like ACT to ask about a project task.   If you have a deadline set for 2 weeks, then have the reminder show up two or three days before the deadline.  Send a quick email or IM and ask “how’s it going.”  The trick here is to do what makes sense for you.  If you are always in email, send yourself and the project owner an email asking for an update.  Warning – this may become another black hole but at least you’re keeping on top of things.  If you prefer instant messaging, send an IM.  Do whatever you need to so that something pops up in your face saying “check on me.”

Bottom line – there will always be reasons projects and tasks don’t get completed.  Do what you can to provide as much detail as possible to ensure you get the results you want.  And make sure you ask – don’t get caught up in day to day minutia.  Take the time to followup so things don’t go bump in the night or get so far gone as to be unrecoverable.

Written by pregen

February 26, 2009 at 3:50 pm

Facebook – the next frontier

leave a comment »

My last several blog entries have been talking about Twitter and social networking.  During  my journey of discovery, it quickly became apparent I also needed to look at Facebook.

I had a Facebook page that I had started months ago but never did anything with.  Having not spent much time logged in I had no idea what the Facebook environment entailed and what it had to offer.

To learn more about what was going on I decided to update my Facebook page and start poking around.  Well, if I thought Twitter was amazing, Facebook blew it away.  In fact, it’s much more viral.

Within a day, I was getting emails from friends asking me to connect with them on Facebook.  I get emails from LinkedIn connections, but not nearly so fast.  This was literally within hours. 

Not only friends contacted me, but family members I hadn’t heard from in decades.  There was a tragic death in my family and my niece was trying to reach  me.  She found me on Facebook and sent me an email.  I had lost touch with her and didn’t know her married name so it was impossible for me to find her.  Instead, she found me.  The circumstances were a sad one, but the results were phenomenal.

That was just the beginning.  I started to explore the applications, some of which are just downright annoying.  Some, however, are fun and make it interesting to use Facebook.

My network started to broaden based on who my friends were linked to.  It’s not quite the same as Twitter where people you don’t know start following you because you posted a very public comment and they thought it was interesting.  On Facebook, you get connected to people similar to Linkedin.  These are connections you know and trust.  Next, I learned that people update their status on Facebook which posts on their “wall.”  You can see what people have said, and they, in turn, can see what has been written on your wall.  People can comment on your status or on any links, pages, or groups you have set up.  It’s a wonderful way to market a business, or champion a cause.  The next thing I did was connect Twitter to Facebook.  By that I mean I enabled the Twitter connection on Facebook so my Twitter comments updated my “status” on Facebook. 

This weekend, though, I found out the real power of Facebook.  I was working on an issue with an Act conversion.  I was lamenting about the complexity of moving attachments during my conversion.  Three of the people connected to me on Facebook saw my status update and commented with suggestions on what I could use to handle my situation.  That was a surprise and extremely helpful.  And unexpected.

Later in the evening, someone else commented on something posted by another of our “friends in common” and I liked what I read and commented as well.  The topic was cooking and a nice long dialog started.  I thought this would be good as a group and setup one and invited the people in the discussion to the group.   Several others noticed the group and joined as well.  Within minutes.  That’s what I meant by viral – it spreads like a virus.  But a good virus.

As I watched the events occur during the evening, it hit me that this was way beyond emailing and instant messaging.   If I wasn’t on Facebook, and wanted other people to know what was happening, I would have had to send out a broadcast email  or instant message to everyone.  Point of fact, I wasn’t really asking for help – I was commenting on something that was happening during my day.  The help came free of charge – without me asking.  Whoa Nelly, that’s amazing.   I didn’t have to send it an all points bulletin to everyone.  

Well, actually, by posting my status, I did send it out.  But in a different way.  I “posted it” to my Wall.  Anyone logged onto Facebook who was connected to me saw my status updates.  The notification section told them I had posted an update.   It’s like Twitter, but different.  It’s Twitter on steroids.

So, where does this take me in my journey of discovery.  Well, a lot further down the trail.  I realize you need both.  Twitter is the short, quick updates of 140 characters that you can manage updates from a phone.  Facebook is a page of your life.  Your Twitter updates are there to update your status and spread the word, if that’s what you are trying to accomplish.  Facebook then takes it to the next level allowing you add groups and specifically target projects, business applications and personal interests, like cooking.

It’s not a case of which one you use.  You use them both.  It’s how you use them to the best advantage that is the question. My next step is to figure this out along with how LinkedIn fits into the puzzle.

Oh, and warning, don’t get sucked into the games that Facebook has.  I was sent an Easter Egg and several hours later I am still here gathering away.  Help me – I’ve fallen and I can’t get up……

Ciao for now.

Written by pregen

February 16, 2009 at 4:08 am

Calendaring on mobile devices

with one comment

Today,  I’m sitting in a conference room  at Microsoft attending a calendaring and scheduling event (http://www.calconnect.org/calconnect14.shtml).  I attend these events three times a year.

The session I am in now is talking about calendars on mobile devices.  The issue being addressed is the fact that many mobile devices do not support features, you, as a phone user, would like to have.  Examples are the ability to search for open slots on other peoples calendars.  Other examples are managing timezones where the calendar app is smart enough to know I am setting up a meeting in one timezone but attendees are in other timezones and will need to see times that are relevant to them.  There were other examples as well, but it all boiled down to devices supporting vcalendar, a ten year old specification, instead of supporting iCalendar, the newer one.

I started thinking about whether or not people actually care.  Do you want to schedule an appointment on your phone? And invite people using the same phone?  And search for free time on people’s calendar using a phone instead of a web brower or a computer?  My original thinking was no, because the calendar applications are so limited.  But now there are very smart phones in the wild and why can’t it happen.  Hm.

Taking it to the next level, on my Treo, I should be able to click on a contact in my address book and click a button that sets up an appointment on my calendar and, oh, gosh, sends an email to that person inviting them to a meeting.  Oh, since we’re dreaming here, how about a button that says “check to see if this person has an opening next week.”  Yea, I know.  I believe in the Easter Bunny too.  But why can’t this happen.  If it could, maybe then people would want to use their phone to do sophisticated calendaring operations.

The challenge is convincing the network operators like Verizon and AT&T that this is a good thing.  That it might actually increase their revenues with data traffic.  That it might make their clients happy campers. 

The session I am sitting in is pondering how do we convince the operators that this is a good thing.  The device manufacturers have told us we have to convince the Verizon’s of the world to make a change to an environment that will support enhanced calendar operations.

But this leads me back to my original quandry.  Is it what people really want?

If you think it is, let me know.  Post a comment.  And thanks for doing that.

Ciao from Redmond.

Written by pregen

February 5, 2009 at 9:10 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

More on Twitter

with 2 comments

This week I’m at a business meeting at Microsoft in Redmond, WA.  I have some spare time so I’m continuing my efforts at learning the Twitter world. 

I’ve spent the last two weeks familiarizing myself with Twitter.  A couple of clients asked if this was something they should look into as yet another way to market themselves and their business.  My initial reaction was probably not.  However, that is no longer the case.  I’m kind of overwhelmed at the power of this environment.

I started exploring posts using the search link.  It’s amazing the excellent information and tips you can find out on the “tweets.”  Yes, I know they say don’t believe everything you read on the Internet.  And for the most part, I undertand that and practice “safe searching” as a general rule. 

Yet, the little tips I’m finding and reading on Twitter are excellent and very helpful.  The trick is finding who to follow and how many.  This could easily become an addiction or at least a time consumer and that’s not something I need right now.

Today, though, I helped someone on Twitter as a favor and she posted a really nice Tweet about me and my business.  How nice was that.  Ah, how nice was that indeed.  Instant word of mouth marketing simply by lending a hand.  Hm, ok, this is making me rethink my initial reaction about Twitter.  In fact,  I went out and updated my Twitter profile with more information about my website and interests.  At the same time, I went and updated a bit on my Facebook page as well.  In these lean times, it pays to put information out in as many places as possible.  And this is not spamming because the people need to come to you – not the other way around. 

As you know I am fond of saying…How cool is that.

Ciao from Redmond

Written by pregen

February 3, 2009 at 1:29 am

%d bloggers like this: