Saturday, February 28, 2009

Corporate Psycopaths

If you work in a corporate organisation or an office, your boss or the person sitting next to you could be a psychopath. This may not be news to you. You will probably have suspected this and singled the person out for cautious attention.

Not every psychopath is a budding Hannibal Lecter or Patrick Bateman, the Harvard Business School-educated Wall Street banker with a sadistic murderous streak who is the anti-hero of Brett Easton Ellis' brutal novel "American Psycho".

They may not be violent, but their character traits are certainly identifiable as psychopathic and this helps them climb the corporate ladder. According to Professor Robert Hare, an expert in psychopathy at the University of British Columbia, Canada, "corporate psychopaths" are ruthless, manipulative, superficially charming and impulsive, the very traits that are landing them high-powered managerial roles.

"Psychopaths are social predators and like all predators they are looking for feeding or killing grounds," he said. "Wherever you get power, prestige and money you will find them." The key characteristics shared by all psychopaths (Professor Hare estimates that as much as one percent of the population of Britain and North America are clinically psychopathic) are their lack of compassion and inability to empathize with others.

While they may thrive in the paranoid atmosphere of high pressure environments, they can also harm the companies they work for. They make life a misery for their co-workers, throwing fits of rage, blaming others when things go wrong, and taking credit for other people's work.

To combat this, Professor Hare has teamed up with corporate psychologist Dr. Paul Babiak to design a test that allows companies to detect corporate psychopaths before they can do serious damage in the workplace.

The "Business Scan 360" test is used to assess managers who may carry psychopathic traits yet come across as ideal corporate leaders. Professor Hare is also examining economic crime in the U.S., such as the Enron and WorldCom scandals, to see how corporate psychopaths operate.
"The psychopath is the kind of individual that can give you the right first impression, has a charming facade, can look and sound like the ideal leader, but behind this mask has a dark side."

"It's this dark side of the personality that lies, is deceitful, manipulative, it that bullies other people, it promotes fraud in the organization and steals or diverts the company's assets or money."

Hare believes that individual employees who suspect they are working with a psychopath should also take steps to avoid becoming their next "victim."

"The most important thing is to be aware," he says. "Once you take that position you are in a better position to deal with them."

Paul Farmer, from the mental health charity Rethink, agrees that "corporate psychopaths" pose a major threat to harmonious workplace relations. "The danger is that they build up a power base and turn everyone in the organization paranoid, everyone becomes afraid of everyone else and the work culture begins to reflect the personality of the leader," said Farmer.

"The workplace is often the most stressful place a person finds themselves in, employees and managers need to keep an eye out for signs of deteriorating mental health in fellow colleagues."

Creativity and Innovation

The the creative art of any deal can be enhanced by the art of creativity and innovation.

In truth, "art" is overstating it. "Visualization" is more accurate: if you can draw basic geometric shapes, lines, arrows, and stick figures, you have all the creativity skills you need to put your ideas into practice and produce a vast array of concepts and network models, diagrams, schematics, flow charts, tables, and other visual representations. Welcome to the world of Pictorial analysis.

In 1969, Rudolf Arnheim's Visual Thinking made a compelling case that while perception and reasoning may seem like two distinct mental activities, neither one can occur without the other. More recently, in the business world, the concept of "strategy maps" has been advanced by Robert Kaplan and David Norton (creators of the balanced scorecard) as providing a "visual epiphany" that helps business leaders connect processes to desired outcomes.

Executives should reach for the pencil not only when addressing a discrete task such as drawing a strategy map, but in myriad situations in which "the problem [or the solution] is hard to see." That may be a challenge for finance people, who are accustomed to believing that, 'all answers can be found in the numbers if one simply drills down far enough'.

Those in finance are often "red-pen" people, who question the entire idea of visualization, right up to the point where they grab a red pen and redraw everything. You will need to work harder to convince finance executives, than any other group but, once won over, they will become the most ardent backers of the concept.

The other two classes of people are "black-pen" people, those who are instantly drawn to visualization and "yellow-pen" people, who are happy to build upon someone else's initial stab at visualization.

It may help to know that the finance department at Microsoft, where, not surprisingly, employees can "make spreadsheets do pirouettes in ways mere mortals can't," nonetheless, they "understand that insights often depend on looking at the data from different angles and in a more visual form."

Drawing Conclusions
Most business problems can be framed as a variant of the five W's, or, more accurately, four W's and an H: who, what, when, where, and how.

Use your given creativity to show innovation in your ideas and concepts and engage your audience by involving them in, what should be an organic process.

So for your next meeting, leave the laptop behind and instead bring a few whiteboard markers. You may find that even a lousy picture is worth a thousand rows and columns.

The race is on!

'When faced with the imminent danger of being attacked by a tiger, your aim is not to out run the tiger. Your aim is to out run your colleagues.' - Ken Budd

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The 10/20/30 Rule of PowerPoint

For the benefit of all of us, I am writing here to propose the 10/20/30 Rule of PowerPoint. It’s quite simple:
  • a PowerPoint presentation should have 10 (ten) slides,
  • last no more than 20 (twenty) minutes, and
  • contain no font smaller than 30 (thirty) points.

This rule is applicable for any presentation, in any business and can be used to reach amicable agreement: raising capital, making a sale, forming a partnership, etc.

10 (ten) - This is the optimal number of slides in a PowerPoint presentation because a normal human being cannot comprehend more than ten concepts in a meeting. If you must use more than ten slides to explain your business, you probably don’t have a business. The ten topics that should be considered are as follows; (because these are the ones that most people care)

  1. Define the Problem
  2. Outline Your solution
  3. Establish the Business model
  4. Disclose Underlying magic/technology
  5. Remember the Marketing and sales
  6. There is always Competition
  7. You need a good Team
  8. Forecast Projections and milestones
  9. Reporting Status and following a timeline
  10. Finish on a Summary and call to action
20 (twenty) - You should present your ten slides in twenty minutes. Given you have an hour time slot, but if you’re using a Windows laptop, it will take forty minutes to make it work with the projector. Once you are setup, people will arrive late and have to leave early. In a perfect world, you give your pitch in twenty minutes and you have forty minutes left for Q&A, discussion and networking.

30 (thirty) - The majority of the presentations that I see have text in a ten point font. As much text as possible is jammed into the slide, and then the presenter stands and reads it. However, as soon as the audience figures out that you’re reading the text, they read ahead of you because they can read faster than you can speak. The result is that you and the audience are out of synch with you and you lose the impact of your message delivery.

The reason people use a small font is twofold:

1) they don’t know their material well enough

2) they think that more text is more convincing.

This is the totally wrong approach. Be disciplined, force yourself to use a large font, no smaller than thirty points. It will make your presentations better because it requires you to find the real essence of your presentation. Use the most salient points and know how to explain and expand upon them.

Another possible algorithm; find out the age of the oldest person in your audience and divide it by two. Make that your optimal font size.

SWOT Analysis

SWOT Analysis is a well-known method for describing a business or business propositions in terms of those factors that can have the maximum impact. The business owner does this analysis in order to improve the current position of the business. The Strengths and Weaknesses of the business are considered to be the internal aspects of a business, such as the quality of the product or the managerial skills. Whereas the Opportunities and Threats are the external factors, like the development of a completely new market or the arrival of new competitors.

The strengths and weaknesses of a business can be found in the following:

Management sector: The over dependence of an employee on a manager or an owner is one of the major weaknesses in a business that often leads to the requirement of more managers. This area needs to be worked upon in order to reduce the expense of the organization and to improve the business.

The work force: The difficulty in finding skilled staff as well as the employee turnover has to be handled efficiently to help a business grow successfully.

Sales: The strength of sales, how dependent your sales are on external factors, and cyclical sales are some of the factors that affect the business.

Financial: The factors affecting the financial condition of your business determine its strengths and weaknesses. The major aspects related to finance are the flow of cash, time to collect on invoices, and the ease of obtaining loans.

Operations: Strengths and weaknesses are also determined by the internal efficiency as well as the speed of manufacture and delivery of goods.

Opportunities and threats are found in the following categories:

Threats posed by the new rivals in the market: A new entrant in the market, selling a similar product or service, is considered to be one of the greatest threats, as you might not have a patent that could put a brake on new competitors.

Bargaining power of suppliers: Suppliers can pose a major threat for the business as they might force you to take large deliveries. Many times they are also difficult to find, or the supply may not be available.

Customer influence: There are some businesses that rely on a handful of customers, which include a lot of late payers. In addition, many customers bargain for lower prices. In such cases, the business tends to either face the threat of loss of customers or of being unprofitable.

Substitution: People often get bored using a particular brand of product and tend to opt for a change. The market usually has a number of similar products of similar quality. So the major threat is that people might try a product other than yours, and eventually end up substituting your product with it.

You can use two methods to grade these strengths, weaknesses, opportunities or threats, namely, pictorial and numerical.

If you opt for the pictorial way, you need to first create four sectors on a writing pad, putting the titles Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats in each sector, and a large question mark in the center. Now place each of the SWOTs in each sector, with the most problematic factors being farthest away from the question mark, and the better factors closer to it. The closer the display is bunched towards the center of the grid, the better the shape of your business.

However, if you pick the numerical method of assessment, you need to rate each item from 1 to 5 according to how important each is to your business. In this rating, 5 is considered to be the most important. Besides, each factor should also be rated from A to E according to its impact on the business, where E would indicate the highest impact. Then, check how many Es and 5s you end up with. If there are bad factors then you need to change or work on them. And, if there are strengths and opportunities, then it is important to build upon those factors. This would help to boost your business.

Leadership; 5 easy steps

Becoming an effective leader has been compared to being in the stock market, in a normal year. You don't make your fortune in one day; you make it daily and weekly, a little bit at a time. What matters most is what you do day after day, over a long period of time. The secret to leadership success is investing in your leadership development, much like letting your financial assets compound. The final result "Leadership Growth" over time.

Are leaders born or made, nature or nurture. The process of leadership is long, complex and has many elements. Respect, dignity, discipline, people skills, vision, emotional strength, opportunity, preparedness and experience are just some of the intangible elements which come into play when talking leadership. Calm assertive personalities.

You can, over a period of time, increase your leadership potential if you can understand and accept the five levels of leadership. They are;

Level One - Leadership From Position
This is the basic level of leadership, square 1. At this level people follow you because they have to. Your ability to lead people is totally geared to your position and does not exceed the lines of your job description or the authority granted to you by the company and your boss. Your security with the company is based on title and position, not talent. They salute the uniform not the man.

To be an effective leader at this level know your job, be prepared to accept responsibility, exercise authority with caution, assess the strengths and short comings of your people, do more than what is expected and challenge people with interesting and tough assignments.

Positional Level is the doorway to leadership and every successful leader must pass through this doorway.

Level Two - Leadership From Respect
At the respect level of leadership people follow you because they want to. The core of Leadership From Respect is that people want to know that you care and understand about them and their viewpoint (empathy). You have to accomplish this before they care about or will consider or value, what you know. People see you as a professional partner, sharing the similar goals and challenges along the way. Leadership will flourish with respect, because respect breeds lasting trusted professional relationships and therefore forms the basis for effective leadership.

To be effective at the respect level, you need to possess (develop) a genuine concern for your people. It is important that you see life through their eyes. Deal thoughtfully and wisely with, apparently difficult people. Cultivate success and make employees successful by setting them up for success. Give them an appetite for it and stand back.

Since leadership from respect is built on professional relationships, it forms the foundation for leadership success.

Level Three - Leadership From Results
People follow you because of what you have done for the company. People admire you for your accomplishments and respect your tenacity. At this point leadership becomes fun. Going to work is fun, work related challenges are seen to be opportunities for a more stable work environment and all tasks have a purpose in the minds of the employees. Good things happen at the results level. Making profit, low employee turnover, higher employee morale and solving problems with ease are some of the items that become evident at this level.

To be an effective leader at this level be prepared to initiate and accept responsibility for growth by developing a purpose and seeing it through to completion. Develop accountability for results, beginning with yourself and ending with your people. Make the difficult decisions that will result in positive long term gains while championing change as a change agent and understanding the need for and the process of change.

Leadership from results is built on admiration and respect for the leader.

Level Four - Leadership From People Development

People follow you because of what you have done for them. It is a leader's responsibility to develop their people to do the work that is expected to contribute future growth opportunities to the company and the people who serve it. People are loyal to you because they see first hand personal growth opportunities for them as well as, the company. Leadership success is underscored by a win - win scenario and a high commitment to success.

To be effective at this level place a priority on developing people. Focus your attention on the fact that people are your most valuable asset and your leadership success will depend on your ability to surround yourself with an inner core of competent people who compliment your leadership style and goals.

Leadership from people development is built on honesty, commitment and loyalty.

Level Five - Leadership From Mentorship
People follow you because they respect you. As a leader you have credibility, you may appear larger than life and your success is shown through a life of proven accomplishments. People seek you out after you have left the company because you have left an indelible mark on the organisation, its employees and its clients. Although less than five per cent of all leaders will attain this level of leadership, it is a level worth striving for.

In summary, everyone can become a good or better leader. It is important to keep in mind that the higher you want to go up the leadership scale, the longer it takes to accomplish results and the higher the commitment will need to be. It is imperative that we know what level we are on with our people, the team and the company.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

H5N1 Pandemic Flu - breakthrough research

From my previous article on the H5N1 Pandemic flu virus, you will know that the flu virus constantly alters its surface proteins and constantly mutates into variant forms. This means that we can be infected many times over a lifetime and a flu vaccine made last year has but a short period of effectiveness.

Now studies show that this behaviour is just a decoy to guard the virus's more vulnerable parts; a fact that might enable us to make drugs, or a vaccine, that will work on all kinds of flu, year after year.

Flu's main surface protein, haemagglutinin, looks like a lollipop. Our immune systems mostly produce antibodies to its rounded head, and it is this part that changes every year, making immunity short-lived. But in a large library of human antibodies, Wayne Marasco at Harvard University and colleagues found very few that bind its "stalk", which barely changes at all, either through time or between different flu viruses.

To see if this might provide a way to attack the virus, they produced large amounts of the antibodies that home in on the stalk and found that they cured and protected mice from two kinds of H5N1 bird flu, as well as many other flu families including H1N1 pandemic and ordinary flu. The researchers now want to develop the antibodies as a flu drug, possibly to stockpile for pandemics.

The team also plans to test the stalk antibody as a vaccine, so that people produce more of these antibodies themselves. They suspect haemagglutinin's big head is a decoy aimed to attract the immune system's attention and to stop us making many antibodies to the stalk – a delicate bit of molecular machinery that not be so easy to change to evade our immune attacks. In tests on mice, they found that the flu viruses did not evolve to escape the treatment.

Another benefit is that such antibodies stay effective for more than three weeks when injected into people, and in a pandemic could keep people alive long enough to produce their own antibodies to the virus.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Managing the pack - Leadership

In the absence of good strong definite, disciplined, leadership, subversive elements will move in to take over that position and assume dominance over the pack /team.

These subversives are normally the very ones that are threatened by the lack of leadership and discipline. They need defining rules and boundaries, because they are very insecure. They want to be given direction, to be told what to do and how to do it.

The more independent types will be less concerned about weak management and leadership, because they can manage and lead themselves. They are very at ease with co-operative and supportive behaviour and are the backbone of any pack /team.

Unfortunately subversive leaders are ill-equipped for the leadership or governing role and become more insecure, distressed, unpredictable and aggressive. In the absence of hierarchical controls and strong executive management, subversive managers can easily become abusive and vindictive.

In dogs this shows up as unwanted aggressive behaviour when in contact with other dogs, particularly those of a lower standing in the pack. Pulling aggressively on the lead, in a direction chosen by the dog, to the pain and detriment of the owner. Plus inappropriately attacking everything that comes along, and treating it as if it were a major threat e.g. cats, dogs, postmen, skateboards, etc. It is all driven by fear and lack of confidence in the leadership abilities of the owner.

In managers it is slightly less obvious but not much.
  • Loud and disruptive at meetings. (attacks other subordinate members of the pack)
  • Dominating the conversation (unwanted prolonged barking)
  • Averse to change (attacking anything new as if it were a threat)
  • Aggressively defending their position and ideas (doesn't mix well with others and quick to bite)
  • Hijacking the strategic plan and moving it in another direction entirely, to the detriment of the company and the annoyance of the executives (pulling on the lead in the wrong direction).
So, how are your pack leaders? Are they calm assertive or excitable aggressive? You hire the employees that you need and you get the managers you deserve. Be the leader of the pack, the one that keeps them under control at all times. That way you can let them of the lead and know you can call them back to heel, when required, and you will not be afraid to have them play with small children, occasionally.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Linkedin - Make the most of it

I was invited to join Linkedin some years ago when it had just a small following and I subsequently lost the e-mail account that I was using to log in and could not retrieve the Password. So recently, I had to start again and try to re-connect with past colleagues and friends in other locations. It has been an interesting voyage but I still have a long way to go.

I have decided to share with you some of my findings and some suggestions from others about improving your Linkedin account. Hopefully, this will make it more interesting and more effective.

Recommended reading
Within your LinkedIn profile you have a section for recommendations. This is intended to be a useful tool for recruitment consultants and potential new bosses, to find out something about you. Do you play well with others? Unfortunately it can be a bit incestuous, with a circle of friends patting each other on the back and congratulating themselves for doing what they do.

The section suggests that you seek out approval and recognition from a list of your contacts, to allow potential employers a fuller view of you as a direct report, boss, colleague, or client. They are intended to make your LinkedIn profile more dynamic and personal than the fairly static information (where you worked, what you did) that appears in your general resume.Be aware that employers will look beyond the shallow and obviously long-standing friendships, to find the real you.

Instructions on how to get to the Recommendations page;

  1. After you log into your LinkedIn homepage, scroll your mouse over to the left navigation menu where it says "Profile." Click on the subsection that says, "Recommendations."
  2. On the Recommendations page, click on the "request recommendations tab."
  3. You can then walk through a simple three step process.
  • Name the job (among those listed in your resume) for which you want a recommendation, using the drop-down menu.
  • Decide who you'll ask for a recommendation. And lastly,
  • Write a customized note, telling the person why you'd like them to recommend you.
a) What kind of recommendation should you have
While you should have a recommendation in which your boss praises your abilities and how your work helped drive good business results, don't stop there. You want to be able to demonstrate that you were a team player, having your peers say in a recommendation that you go the extra mile or help mentor people can help shape your image with a potential employer.

You also might want to look externally to clients and internally to your direct reports. If you really want to show that you're an effective manger, you want to have endorsement from those people, not just the person above you saying so. Recommendations are about how you work with the people around you, and that should really be all the way around you: above, below, and sideways.

Clearly, make sure you know the person well before asking them for a recommendation. Not only will that ensure a recommendation with greater depth and detail, but also, you avoid putting someone in the awkward position of saying no.

b) Setting Expectations for a Recommendation
Like a recommendation written for the paper-based or e-mail world, a person recommending you on LinkedIn can benefit from some guidance on what specific thoughts and key items you're looking to present in their recommendation. It doesn't hurt to meet them halfway and state what aspects of your experience and relationship you're wanting to convey.

Don't put words in their mouths unless you know more appropriate ones. Do ask them to accentuate one or two good points about what it was like working with you. You can sit back and leave it up to chance about what they might want to write but you may not get the answers you want.

That said, you want to make sure you're not shutting down a colleague from writing something about you that you were unaware. Something that would bolster your image and that you may not have even thought of. In the invitation to write the recommendation, you shouldn't set overly specific guidelines, but mention that you'd be happy to offer them some ideas, if they think it would be helpful.

You might get a happy surprise if they create something that exceeds your expectations and then again you may not.

c). Length: Quality over Quantity
It doesn't hurt to give your colleague some guidance for how long the recommendation should be, and in this case, experts agree that quality should trump quantity. Reader attention spans on the Web are known to be very short. So, you don't want potential employers missing the overall message of a recommendation because they were unable to take several minutes to read it. Time is money and always short. One paragraph should be sufficient, with two paragraphs being an absolute max.In most cases, recommendations with as few as three sentences communicate the most essential points about a person.

d) Number of Recommendations: Again, Quality Over Quantity
Some LinkedIn profiles look like infomercials if you overuse the recommendation feature. You should not follow such a blatantly obvious deviant strategy. I know people who have 300+ recommendations but it waters down the impact of any of the individual recommendations and can confuse and distract the reader. If you have five really important ones, that's sufficient. At a guess the next 295 will be saying roughly the same thing i.e. this person is great! It adds too much noise and degrades your integrity.

We certainly recommend having no more than 10, or if you must have recommendations from each previous position or employer, limit yourself to two to three per job.

e) Give Before You Get
The importance of building social capital and goodwill can not be overstated and it's really unavoidable when it comes to LinkedIn recommendations. Before you can expect serious endorsements from people, it's better to start by recommending some people yourself. This way, when you find yourself in need of a new job, hopefully you can rely on them returning the goodwill.

A mirror on your bedroom ceiling reflects badly on you

Keep the Recruitment Consultant on your side

Job seekers need recruiters more than ever. But in their efforts to nurture their networks and stay at the forefront of recruiters' minds, some job seekers are frustrating the very people they need to help them land a new job.

Executive recruiters tell me that job seekers are inundating them with calls and e-mails to inquire about the job market and seek advice on how to land a job in a recession.

The recruiters tell me that they want to help everyone who's contacting them, but they don't have time. The economy has made their jobs much harder. Drumming up business, hunting for candidates and convincing them to take a new job requires much more time and effort in a recession. As one recruiter put it: "Spending 30 minutes with somebody to give them career counsel is not always going to be feasible. If we accepted every request we got, it would kill our day."

What the recruiters are telling me—though not in so many words—is that some job seekers are really pissing them off. In their efforts to get time with headhunters, over-aggressive job seekers are actually alienating themselves from the very people they need to help them find jobs.

If you're looking for a job and you want to stay on good terms with recruiters, heed the following advice they shared with me:

1. Be respectful of recruiters' time.
Realize headhunters can't devote a half hour of their day to answering your questions about the job market and your résumé. Ask them for five minutes, and don't exceed that five minutes. Have a specific question for them, and if possible, have something you can give back, whether it's a contact or information about the market or one of the recruiter's clients.

2. Don't send bland e-mails.
E-mails that simply say 'Hi. How are you? Do you have any new positions?' don't endear recruiters to job seekers. Cut-and-paste e-mails rub recruiters the wrong way because they're not personal. Recruiters are relationship people. Recruiters say job seekers may have a better chance of building a relationship with them if the job seeker catches the recruiter on the phone. Phone calls are inherently more personal than e-mails.

3. Don't call the recruiter at the same time every week.
Calling a particular recruiter at the same time every week makes them feel like a cog in your call cycle. And routine calls aren't very personal. Rather than calling them every week, stick to every couple of weeks, and vary the days and times you call.

4. Don't send recruiters your résumé every time you update it.
Recruiters say they are generally happy to give job seekers advice on their résumés. Just don't send your résumé to them every time you update it, expecting feedback. They don't have time to give you feedback on every version, and they don't want to see every iteration.

Friday, February 20, 2009

H5N1 Bird Flu - Pandemic preparation?

UK to double pandemic flu drug stockpiles in a futile attempt to prepare for a an epidemic of Bird Flu (H5N1) in the UK. I carried out a research project for the European Space agency in 2006 and published a paper of the findings. I still retain an interest in the subject and my attention was drawn to a recent move by the UK government.

Pharmaceutical vaccines
Tamiflu (Oseltamivir) - 1st line vaccine is ineffective against new strains of emerging bird flu

Relenza (Zanamivir) - common flu vaccine, may dampen down the effects or the symptoms of a flu virus

UK Government statement

The UK has awarded contracts to double emergency supplies of flu drugs, promising to treat ‘everyone who is predicted to fall ill in a pandemic’. The government claims that this makes the UK one of the most prepared countries in the world. This will please the pharmaceutical lobby more than the National Health Authority.

Pharmaceutical lobby

The agreements with Roche and GlaxoSmithKline will double antiviral stockpiles, which are expected to be in place by April 2009. The contracts will deliver an additional 7.6 million treatment courses of Tamiflu (Roche) and 10.6 million treatment courses of Relenza (GlaxoSmithKline). Once the extra capacity is in place, there will be 33.5 million ineffective treatment courses of antivirals, with limited shelf life.

High mortality rates

The government states that without antiviral treatment, estimates suggest that up to 750,000 people could die in the UK during a pandemic. Antivirals will play a key role in the clinical response, reducing the severity of the illness and reducing the chance that complications such as pneumonia will set in.The onset of pneumonia is more likely to be a bacterial infection due to the immune system being seriously compromised and the treatment for bacterial pneumonia is antibiotics.

Current status

There are currently enough drugs for a quarter of the population, but the latest cross-government pandemic plan aims to cope with the worst-case scenario of an infection rate that could hit up to half the UK population. The new contracts awarded by the Department of Health is said to ensure that that aim can be met. Unfortunately that is not the case.

H5N1 mutations

The bird flu virus mutates regularly through its RNA and for it to become a pandemic affecting humans, it needs to develop the capability of crossing the species barrier, from birds to humans. It has yet to do this, as far as we are aware. Bird flu has mutated and crossed from birds to other mammals e.g. mice, rats, cats, pigs, etc. The greatest risk will come if the virus mutates from bird to human, using another mammal as an interim host.

Maybe the UK government know better. Because the bird flu has not yet mutated, it has not yet been forensically examined. Therefore, a matching vaccine has not yet been developed i.e. one that specifically targets, a yet to be mutated flu virus. In average, and with maximum effort, it takes scientists and pharmacologists 6 months to develop a new anti-viral vaccine. So we are still in danger, when the time comes, despite noises to the contrary.

UK Public Health Minister

Public Health Minister Dawn Primarolo said:

"The UK is already widely recognised as one of the best prepared countries in the world. The increased flu-drug stockpile means that we should be able to treat everyone who falls ill in a pandemic." I think the key word here is 'treat' not cure. You can treat a broken leg with a band aid but it doesn't help and will not 'cure' it.

Broken umbrella
Dawn continues "Antivirals are an important part of our robust countermeasure strategy and will ensure we respond effectively in the event of a flu pandemic." Nice speech Dawn but a think you had better look behind the pharmaceutical companies' curtains and see the truth for what it is, scary!

Further Information is available from; Roche Pandemic Preparation Toolkit AND GSK Pandemic Preparation page

Categories of intelligence

The categories of intelligence proposed by Howard Gardner are:


This area has to do with bodily movement. People who have this intelligence usually learn better by getting up and moving around, and are generally good at physical activities such as sports or dance. They may enjoy acting or performing, and in general they are good at building and making things. They often learn best by doing something physically, rather than reading or hearing about it. Those with strong bodily-kinesthetic intelligence seem to use what might be termed muscle memory - they remember things through their body such as verbal memory or images.

Careers that suit those with this intelligence include athletes, dancers, actors, surgeons, doctors, builders, and soldiers. Although these careers can be duplicated through virtual simulation they will not produce the actual physical learning that is needed in this intelligence.


This area has to do with interaction with others. People who have a high interpersonal intelligence tend to be extroverts, characterized by their sensitivity to others' moods, feelings, temperaments and motivations, and their ability to cooperate in order to work as part of a group. They communicate effectively and empathize easily with others, and may be either leaders or followers. They typically learn best by working with others and often enjoy discussion and debate.

Careers that suit those with this intelligence include politicians, managers, teachers, and social workers.


This area has to do with words, spoken or written. People with high verbal-linguistic intelligence display a facility with words and languages. They are typically good at reading, writing, telling stories and memorizing words along with dates. They tend to learn best by reading, taking notes, listening to lectures, and discussion and debate. They are also frequently skilled at explaining, teaching and oration or persuasive speaking. Those with verbal-linguistic intelligence learn foreign languages very easily as they have high verbal memory and recall, and an ability to understand and manipulate syntax and structure.

This intelligence is highest in writers, lawyers, philosophers, journalists, politicians and teachers.


This area has to do with logic, abstractions, reasoning, and numbers. While it is often assumed that those with this intelligence naturally excel in mathematics, chess, computer programming and other logical or numerical activities, a more accurate definition places emphasis on traditional mathematical ability and more reasoning capabilities, abstract patterns of recognition, scientific thinking and investigation, and the ability to perform complex calculations. It correlates strongly with traditional concepts of "intelligence" or IQ.

Many scientists, mathematicians, engineers, doctors and economists function in this level of intelligences.


This area has to do with nature, nurturing and relating information to one's natural surroundings. This type of intelligence was not part of Gardner's original theory of Multiple Intelligences, but was added to the theory in 1997. Those with it are said to have greater sensitivity to nature and their place within it, the ability to nurture and grow things, and greater ease in caring for, taming and interacting with animals. They may also be able to discern changes in weather or similar fluctuations in their natural surroundings. Recognizing and classifying things are at the core of a naturalist. They must connect a new experience with prior knowledge to truly learn something new.

"Naturalists" learn best when the subject involves collecting and analyzing, or is closely related to something prominent in nature; they also don't enjoy learning unfamiliar or seemingly useless subjects with little or no connections to nature. It is advised that naturalistic learners would learn more through being outside or in a kinesthetic way.

The theory behind this intelligence is often criticized, much like the spiritual or existential intelligence (see below), as it is seen by many as not indicative of an intelligence but rather an interest.

Careers that suit those with this intelligence include scientists, naturalists, conservationists, gardeners and farmers.


This area has to do with introspective and self-reflective capacities. Those who are strongest in this intelligence are typically introverts and prefer to work alone. They are usually highly self-aware and capable of understanding their own emotions, goals and motivations. They often have an affinity for thought-based pursuits such as philosophy. They learn best when allowed to concentrate on the subject by themselves. There is often a high level of perfectionism associated with this intelligence.

Careers that suit those with this intelligence include philosophers, psychologists, theologians, writers and scientists.

Visual-spatial (Spatial reasoning)

This area has to do with vision and spatial judgment. People with strong visual-spatial intelligence are typically very good at visualizing and mentally manipulating objects. Those with strong spatial intelligence are often proficient at solving puzzles. They have a strong visual memory and are often artistically inclined. Those with visual-spatial intelligence also generally have a very good sense of direction and may also have very good hand-eye coordination, although this is normally seen as a characteristic of the bodily-kinesthetic intelligence.

Some critics point out the high correlation between the spatial and mathematical abilities, which seems to disprove the clear separation of the intelligences as Gardner theorized. Since solving a mathematical problem involves reassuringly manipulating symbols and numbers, spatial intelligence is involved in visually changing the reality. A thorough understanding of the two intelligences precludes this criticism, however, as the two intelligences do not precisely conform to the definitions of visual and mathematical abilities. Although they may share certain characteristics, they are easily distinguished by several factors, and there are many with strong logical-mathematical intelligence.

Careers that suit those with this intelligence include artists, engineers, and architects.


This area has to do with rhythm, music, and hearing. Those who have a high level of musical-rhythmic intelligence display greater sensitivity to sounds, rhythms, tones, and music. They normally have good pitch and may even have absolute pitch, and are able to sing, play musical instruments, and compose music. Since there is a strong auditory component to this intelligence, those who are strongest in it may learn best via lecture. In addition, they will often use songs or rhythms to learn and memorize information, and may work best with music playing in the background.

Careers that suit those with this intelligence include instrumentalists, singers, conductors, disc-jockeys, and composers.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Measured Action for Tough Times

IT Consultants and solution providers are, like everyone else, vulnerable to the recession. However, a recent Market survey shows that IT Consultants and solution providers are preparing to weather the economic storm forecast for 2009. With a lot of good fortune and luck allied to smart planning and insight, they could be positioning themselves for growth in 2010.

US Dollars, GBP and Euros
The dawn of the Obama era in the USA and the infusion of hundreds of billions of dollars, pounds and Euros in stimulus funds are not enough to clear the economic storm clouds gathered over North America, UK and Europe.

Since the beginning of the New Year, the U.S. economy alone has shed nearly 600,000 jobs. Gross domestic product fell by 3.8 percent. And the forecast for the remainder of 2009 calls for sluggish or negative growth.

Consultants poised for 2009
The technology sector, with its IT Consultants and the solution provider community poised to withstand the recessionary pressures of the general economy. The 2009 Market survey of 200 North America IT Consultants and solution providers, reveals that solution providers are very cautiously optimistic about their business prospects in 2009. They fully expect a reduction of enquiries, sales, revenues and profitability. They’re cautious optimism means they are preparing for the worst while hoping for the best.

Weathering the storm
IT Consultants and solution providers are not taking the sluggish economy in their stride. While there is a natural inclination to retreat to a safe place and ride out the downturn, the Market survey report shows many consultants and solution providers are preparing to implement, aggressive business development, sales and market plans. In an effort to not only weather the recession but to power through it and position themselves for growth in 2010 and beyond.

Gross Revenues

Gross revenues from product and services sales increased for 46 percent of solution providers, while only 24 percent saw their top lines shrink. A near equal number of solution providers (45 percent) reported increases in their 2008 profits, while 25 percent said their profits declined.

Ordinarily, healthy revenue and profit increases would be welcomed news for solution providers. But participants in the Market survey were witnessing a phenomenon caused by the recession.

Customer spending down
Consultants and solution providers reported customers spending was down and their existing budgets reduced. This is in anticipation of not getting full funding in 2009 or in anticipation of end-of-the-year budget cuts. Business-technology customers, ranging from small businesses to large enterprises, are expected to continue investments in technologies critical to business operations. This will focus on smart applications and systems that directly reduce costs or innovations that open up new revenue opportunities.

Do not be fooled, they are certainly not freely opening up their checkbooks. IT Consultants and solution providers report that their customers are already cutting back on orders, delaying project implementations and canceling projects to save money.

2009 Forecast
The stated paradox above, is part of the reason why nearly one-half of consultants and solution providers expect their revenue to increase in 2009, while only 32 percent expect a decrease. The key indicator of how tough 2009 will be for solution providers is seen in the number that expect flat year-over-year revenues;
  • 30% of solution providers said their 2008 revenue was relatively the same (plus or minus 5%) over 2007,
  • 21% expect no change in year-over-year revenue in 2009.
  • The clear shift to no change or declining revenue reflects longer sales cycles and customers not committing to engagements.
The survey paints a similar picture for profitability;
  • 51 % of solution providers expect no change or a decline in their year-over year profits.
  • 64 % believe their profits will slide by 15 percent or more this year.
  • 55 % of optimistic solution providers expect their profits to increase by 15 percent or more.
  • No solution provider participating in the Market survey, expected profits to sink by 100% or more. Perhaps trying not to think the unthinkable.
Consultants and solution providers dependent upon conventional hardware sales expect the largest decreases in revenue and profitability. Anticipating revenue decreases this year;
  • 29% of white box/custom system dealers
  • 27% of hardware resellers and
  • 24% of general solution providers,
Topping the list of specialists anticipating net revenue increases.
  • 67% Software resellers
  • 60% Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) providers and agents
  • 55% Systems Integrators
Additionally, solution providers say that they are seeing the greatest slow down in business, from small (less than 50 employees) and midsized businesses (50 to 250 employees).

Ring fence your customers
Consultants and solution providers recognize that they must adapt to the poor economic conditions, and many are executing strategic plans to bring themselves closer to their customers. Hopefully this will allow them to preserve and protect existing revenues sources while seeking new opportunities to tap into new revenue streams. Clearly everyone is becoming more defensive of their existing clients and therefore, the new revenue opportunities will be harder to find and even harder to win, possibly with lowered margins and ROI spread over longer periods.

Nearly one-half of consultants and solution providers surveyed for the Market say that their top business goal for 2009 is improving customer satisfaction and retaining existing customers. It’s much easier and more cost effective to expand sales within an existing customer than it is to acquire a new customer and build a relationship. The risk that you put all your eggs in one big basket that could, in itself, fall.

Customer retention not detention
Of the consultants and solution providers focused on customer satisfaction and retention, most anticipate their profits will remain flat or decrease. The same can be said for consultants and survey participants focused on increasing revenue, the second most popular business goal for the year. Are you being retained or detained by your customers and service providers? Discuss!

QoS versus Market Share
Consultants and solution providers who are focused primarily on improving quality of service (QoS), will have a higher expectation of profit erosion. Conversely, consultants and solution providers focused on increasing market share or profitability have higher expectation of improving profitability in 2009. This may not be the case, when taking into consideration the cost of sales.

Revenue Growth - greater expectations?
For revenue growth, 60 percent of consultants and solution providers are squarely set on simply acquiring and developing new customers. Another 30% are expanding their relationships with existing customers. Interestingly, solution providers are not looking to their peer communities for support during the recession. Only 13 percent of survey participants said they would form an alliance with their peers i.e. consultant and solution provider partners, or partner with other consultants to reach new markets and customers.

Together we stand and divided,
we may fall

Monday, February 16, 2009

Communications - mutual respect

The primary key to motivating another person is trying to understand their perceptions and manage their expectations.

The primary driver for men is normally status and respect, their standing in the community. This is not only a defensive action but can also be an offensive action. A man's status and respect is most beneficial to him when it grows. A more defensive reaction is triggered when it is seemingly being assailed or reduced.

Initial man-to-man meetings can result in an immediate confrontation and checking of status and esteem, starting with "What is your job title?" and followed by "What 'things' have you got?" e.g. cars, houses, women, etc. The answers are rated, by both sides in the comparative status stakes and from this each person's position in the 'pecking' order is established and a resulting hierarchy is established and will remain, until a change in status is achieved by either party. This can be done openly and aggressively or subversive and defensively. Therefore, it is in both men's interest to check their status, often. Discuss!

A US study of 400 hundred men proposes; 74% said that they would prefer to be alone and unattached, rather than be disrespected and made to feel inadequate (married??). Men perceive criticism as contempt and 81.5% of the sample group, felt disrespected when in conflict with their wife or partner. So, 85% of men withdraw into silence during a conflict. Possibly because he is unfamiliar with the feelings he is experiencing and /or in an attempt to keep or gain control of himself and his emotions. It is an internal fight, an attempt to stay calm so he doesn't break out of his shell and overreact, breaching social norms or worse. He may see it as the honourable and respectable thing to do but his wife or partner will only feel shut out and rejected by this. So the conflict continues, until it reaches a crisis point.

On the other side, it is said that the primary drive and deepest value for women is acceptance and affection. They communicate freely and verbalise openly. They will opt to do this with other women to resolve a conflict, which normally leads to reconciliation or at least mutual understanding. This is not what men do and it is naive to expect it.

The initial meeting between women will be an exchange of feelings and expressions, to ascertain what this person is like and can we bond. The need to be accepted and embraced as part of a supportive 'family' group or 'pack' is very important. Not so with men, they are vying to 'lead' or 'dominate' the 'pack' and be the top dog because it is residual in their ancient genes to do so.

Most women are endowed with the need to be supportive people, teachers or instructors particularly if they have children. They quickly adopt the role of teachers and therefore critics of their husbands, partly without intending to or without realising it. They just simply want to put him on the 'right' path to building a better, more cohesive pack. Their motives may be pure but their tactics often wound the man. Women want their partners to be inclusive, to be close, to open up, to talk, etc. Most importantly, he should be willing and able to listen and share, not necessarily trying to "fix" her every concern or issue, except loose floor boards, faulty lights and other household fittings. In these cases a definitive list often helps.

Men communicate on a competitive level, by sharing experiences, sports or other physical activities. This is normally done on neutral round, without threatening direct eye contact and by just sitting with each other side-by-side, in a guarded position, backs to the wall and facing outward. To gauge their feelings and reactions, women will share experiences openly, in a non-competitive manner and by talking about them to each other, sitting face-to-face, often touching and often in a group or inclusive circle.

Quick tips

To Communicate with the men:
1. Regularly tell your male employees what you appreciate and admire about them - be aware of, and build on their self esteem
2. Stop instructing and correcting and give them your trust and respect - empower them, give them a chance to succeed and the support that will prevent them failing
3. Take time to spend time with them and get to know 'who' they are and what motivates them - no threatening eye contact and no competitive comparisons, don't judge people

Communicate with the women:
1. Make time to talk to them face-to-face - 'include' them in your day, allow them to include you
2. Listen to their problems and don't be too quick to jump in and try to "fix" what is wrong - share their concerns and validate their feelings, be supportive and open
3. Regularly tell your women employees what you appreciate and admire about them - build their self esteem but guard their open-hearted-ness, it is a gift bestowed and not to be used or abused.

Communicate - Single minded isolation and solitude is no way to protect your status or self respect. It just restricts it.

Share your thoughts and feelings and support others who wish to do the same. Build open cohesive teams, not barriers.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Use the Power of persuasion

Are you hunting for a new job or the next step up the ladder? Well, it may come as a small surprise to you to hear that one of your main objective is simply to be persuasive.

What are the most effective approaches?
  • These days networking is sited as the most effective way of finding a new job. So firstly, you need to build your personal network and then persuade the loyal members of your network to introduce you to people who might connect you with someone who knows someone ..........who has a suitable opening for you to fill.
  • Secondly, you need to get your CV read and acknowledged. So you need to persuade HR professionals and recruiters to not just read and discard résumé but to consume, digest and ruminate over it.
  • Having got as far as the HR dept, you need to persuade the hiring managers that you're the perfect candidate for their organisations. The missing link they have been seeking, even if they didn't realise it themselves

Be convincing - Some people are easier to convince in your job search than others. Getting friends and colleagues to arrange introductions for you doesn't require much persuasive effort because they know you and some may even like you or owe you money. Therefore, they're willing to play their part on your behalf. After all if the circumstances were reversed, you would do the same for them. Your powers of persuasion over your friends should stem from your mutual friendship, natural charm, credibility and likeability, not from your rhetorical prowess or physical strength.

The Gatekeeper - The hiring manager, knows nothing about you, apart from the fact that he has seen your name in a pile of CVs that need to be filtered. He has to create a short list of candidates fit for interviewing and you must be on it. How are you going to stand out from the crowd and rise loftily above the other candidates. You have to think better and work harder to convince them that you're worthy of their time. In such situations, job seekers need the advantages gained from fully understanding the fundamentals of persuasion.

Easy as ABC
Effective persuasion combines equal parts communication and observation. It hinges on having good people skills;
  1. being able to read people,
  2. being a good listener and
  3. being empathetic.

You need to be a keen observer of the person you're trying to persuade. Otherwise how can you match the tone and language you use in conversation to the other person's tone and language. Watch how the other person reacts to what you are proposing, either physically, through their facial expressions and body language, or in their tone of voice. If you notice a negative reaction, or discomfort, you should be alerted and quickly change or slightly adjust your approach.

Under your Influence - To be an effective influencer, you also need to be likeable, outwardly open and trustworthy. It doesn't matter whether you're selling an idea, a service or a product, people tend to buy from people. If I like you, I will listen to you. If I don't like you or your message, I won't listen to you. Getting someone to listen to you is the first stage of persuasion.

Persuasion isn't inherently difficult. To do it right, people just need to focus on listening to the person they're trying to persuade and adjusting their communication accordingly.

Whether you're seeking a new job, clinging to an existing one or out to climb higher, persuading people of your value is going to be your key to success, especially during times of low market confidence and recession.

How do you persuade others without appearing pushy and what about the dangers of steamrolling people into submission. The Hard Sell!

What is one of the biggest mistakes you can make when trying to influence or persuade others?

One of the worst crimes you can commit is the lack of true or active listening. Far too many people only half-listen to other people who are speaking and the same people are equally unlikely to closely observe people either. We sentient humans have the capacity to think at four or five times the rate of someone who's speaking. Consequently, we can often listen badly because we're too busy looking ahead and formulating our responses while the other person is still speaking, or we're thinking about something else entirely, like shopping or the size of the other person's nose. We fail to pick up clues that indicate what the other person is really saying or thinking because we are not even listening.

Body Language

Observing body language is the closest we can come to mind-reading. If you make a statement, and that statement produces a grimace or a shift in posture of the other person, their body is telling you that something you said doesn't gel with them. It's a clue for you to change your tact or to inquire what it is that's bothering that person.

Negative pressure

Some individuals lack the level of people skills that are needed to persuade others. However, they can and are able to sway and influence their co-workers by taking a dominant posture. This is observeable, because they always have a response to a point or counterpoint. Their constant pressure exhaust others' patience and endurance, leading to submission. It is more like verbal tennis or squash than persuasion.

Is there anything wrong with this sporty method of persuasion if it accomplishes the persuader's goals?

Clealry. beating someone into submission is not good practice. It is not what we understand to be true persuasion. A truly persuasive person will not leave you in an exhausted state. The ultimate goal of effective persuasion, is that the relationship between the two people hasn't suffered, even after one has changed the other person's belief or behavior. There should be no 'losers' as there are in competitive sports.

Certain personality types are better at persuasion than others?

Extroverted people tend to be more persuasive than people who are prone to introversion. Extroverts are often in people facing jobs, such as sales or advertising, where they have to influence or persuade people to buy a product, take some kind of action or adopt a different lifestyle goal.

Introverted People will take jobs that are less people-focused and more facts and figures focused. They are the back-room people, often evry talented but lacking the self confidence that their knowledge should bring. Therefore, they have less experience of dealing with people than extroverts. Consequently, they don't develop the people skills that extroverts develop. It is a vicious circle that is not so easily broken.

Introverts can be good persuaders, when dealing with other introverts; people of their own type. Introverts have more difficulty in persuading extroverts because extroverts tend to speak louder and faster than introverts. Whereas, the introverts tend to conduct their interactions in a much slower manner.

Extroverts have similar difficulty in trying to persuade introverts. When you look at workplace disputes, some can be attributed to personality clashes between introverts and extroverts.

Logical arguments besides, just do it!

May I also postulate a theory that the extoverts are more emotionally open and accepting of emotive reasons for doing something. Whereas, extroverts may be less willing to expose their feelings to scrutiny and therefore take the safer option of discussions based on known facts. It is easier to dis-arm an introvert using facts and logic than it is an extravert. Discuss!

Is there a difference between persuasion and manipulation? Some people don't like the idea of having to persuade or influence others. It strikes them as unseemly, pushy or manipulative.

Persuasion is essentially about changing someone's perception, questioning their assumptions. You are trying to alter their beliefs and behaviour. Persuasion is really about moving someone from point A to point B.

Manipulation implies coercion. When we're talking about persuasion, you are seeking a win-win scenario, where both parties are happy. Manipulation implies that only one party is satisfied and the other is out-manouvred.

It's all about the approach

Manipulation is often synonymous with some kind of threat: If you don't do this, this will happen. Persuasion is a meeting of minds: You are persuading another to come around to your point of view. Ideally, no one gets hurt. You have simply changed a person's perception, not by coercion or threat.

It is better to have cross-pollination than a cross Polynesian

(old Hawaii proverb, alledgely)

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Looking for another War - Try Project Management

How can you leave the battlefield with your dignity, honour and /or pride in tact? I am not so sure that its possible without losing your life to the struggle. Dead heroes are greatly honoured, when flown home, away from the conflict. Pity the one's that remain in the danger zone and have to keep on struggling.

What are your choices in this war? Honourable or dishonourable discharge, medical discharge (physical or psychological wounding), desertion or death. Some of these categories may overlap but from this list you can deduce that you have only about a 1 in 5 chance of a positive result. Not good odds.

How can a positive outcome be achieved?
  • You keep your head down,
  • Avoid the more serious, career-stopping, fighting,
  • Always obey the last command,
  • Never be the first to do anything,
  • Protect only yourself but
  • Run with the crowd, staying away from the perimeter and if at all possible,
  • Hire a dispensible contractor or consultant to do the dangerous stuff and
  • Stick to developing Strategy and Policy!We're right behind you men!

If you can't stand the heat, get out of the PM business!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

PM for Network Professional

Good Timing is the key to Good Project success!
Professionals know what they know and network professionals are typically well-versed in the technical aspects of networking: protocols, router and switch configuration, server deployment and management, and so on.

Conversely, we don't always know what we don't know and our colleagues, the network pros, are rarely trained on how to manage projects. Fortunately, most of the problems that networkers face in projects can be addressed and mitigated against using standard project management methodologies and techniques.

Consider the effect of some Probability and a little influence from Evolutionary learning can have on your projects. If you are not proficient in something but do it often and long enough and are determined enough, sooner or later you will start to have a greater degree of success or a lesser degree of failure. Design and install networks long enough, and you'll be sure to have some of those projects go awry due to predictable, 'unforeseen' 'surprises'. Two words that you do not want to use in your monthly Project Progress Report. Two words that clearly depict the reasons why you should be applying Project and Risk management methodologies.

....and then they put the phone lines in!

Sometimes the infrastructure you need, such as power in a communications room, is not ready when you need to install an Ethernet switch. Other times, your network equipment vendor may seem to be perpetually on "back order" with the one module you need. Or perhaps it's the all-too-familiar "scope creep" when users decide they need greater wireless coverage than they asked for at the beginning of the project, without increasing costs of course.

Managing network projects is not an exercise in fortune telling, far from it. When analysed the core components for network projects are just like any other project, IT or otherwise: There is an objective, a time line, a budget and expectations of those who will benefit from the network once it is completed.

Professional project managers command good salaries because they understand these processes. Executives know that certified project managers are less apt to have projects run away from them. Attaining project management certifications such as the Project Management Institute's Project Management Professional (PMP) could be just as valuable to you as a network professional as a Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert or a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer but you don't have to earn the full PMP certification to reap some benefits.

Applying a few simple project management tips will quickly earn you a reputation for delivering network projects on time and within budget and this is the sort of reputation that opens doors.

Quick Fix is leading but .............!

Triple constraints; I once saw the following on the wall of a drive-in oil-change service: "You can have it done cheap, fast or right; pick two." This is true of all projects, and it illustrates the so-called "triple constraints" rule: projects are subject to cost, schedule and performance parameters. Changing one will affect at least one of the remaining two. e.g. when installing a network for a local bank branch office to allow for Internet access and e-mail. The project includes configuring a Microsoft Exchange server and installing a virtual private network firewall for security. You included labor in your project schedule and quote to ensure that the project is done in two months, as requested.

One week into the project, the bank announces acceleration in plans, the office network needs to be done in three weeks instead of two months.Your staff is already fully devoted to this and other projects. You can't cut out functionality because the office still requires all of the network connectivity and e-mail functionality. What can you do?

The only way to accommodate is to add more staff, either by paying overtime to your employees or subcontracting another IT firm. Either way, the cost will go up, yet the bank will likely baulk at the new cost. At that point, armed with the understanding of the "triple constraints" principle, you as a network pro knowledgeable in project management concepts can calmly explain why the request to change time will increase the overall network project cost.

......there be monsters here!
Project charter and scope; To reduce the likelihood of the network project growing uncontrollably, make sure that everyone understands the project deliverables, what the network will provide, how long it will take and at what cost. Your key constituencies here are the project sponsor and the network administrator.

By following project management methodologies, this can be accomplished by starting from the general (project charter) and migrating to specifics (project scope).

For network projects, the project charter could be simply "provide network connections for the new Shelbyville Bank and Trust building at 3 Main Street." Details including the number of connections, security protections needed and services desired are best left to the project scope. The scope simply supports the goals defined in the charter while providing more details; it is not a complete network engineering plan in itself.

You can create an initial cost estimate for the project from the scope. When the scope is broad or when there is only a charter, precise estimates are not possible.

A good option, is to take a network project of comparable scope that you worked on previously and use that as a basis for the estimate. It's also wise to not give a single figure estimate but rather a range, say maybe 50 percent on either side of the estimate derived from historical knowledge. As the scope is more clearly defined, refine the cost estimate by changing the midpoint as appropriate and reducing the range size.

Project schedule; Once scope is known, a project schedule should be determined. You'll already know the two most important project points: the beginning,following soon after the project scope is approved and the end, when the network is in place as requested by the sponsor. It's up to you to fill in the blanks.

Here's where a project management software package such as Microsoft Project really comes in handy. It can tie all aspects of the project together by providing a relatively easy way to create the plan for the network installation. Setting up the project plan can take some time at the beginning, but it will pay dividends many times over the course of the network project.

When planning network projects, break the project into the following six phases:

  • Information gathering—scope, existing infrastructure
  • Purchasing decisions—which switches, routers, firewalls, servers and so on are needed
  • Ordering equipment
  • Configuring and installing the servers and network equipment, and testing connectivity and functionality
  • Customer acceptance
  • Documentation

However, you decide to manage your network project, breaking it into smaller miniprojects makes the overall project more manageable. Suppose you know from experience that you generally receive network equipment from your supplier four weeks from order. Furthermore, you know that it typically takes two weeks to configure and burn in the equipment and another two weeks to install and test. So, start from the end of project date and count backward eight weeks; that then becomes your milestone date for ordering the equipment.

Scope creep. Performance constraints can also change, and in networking, they are usually on the side of more functionality, not less. Scope creep is a change in project requirements after the project has been planned and is under way.

A common example of scope creep that every network professional I know has experienced, is when the customer decides he needs more network capacity (number of jacks) than what you planned for at the beginning of the project. I like to inform customers upfront about the magic number: 24. Many vendor enterprise workgroup switches have a minimum of 24 Ethernet ports (some allow 48). Pass the magic number, or a multiple thereof, and expect the project's cost to increase (refer back to the "triple constraints" rule).

Of course, changing the number of connections does not just affect network electronics costs. Additional cable drops and possibly patch panels for terminations may be needed. An increase in electronics (switches or servers) may require heftier uninterruptible power supplies and may increase heat generation, forcing an upgrade of the HVAC design of the communications room or data center. It's clear to see that expanding the project requirements increases its cost, which is a problem when budgets are limited and fixed.

These problems exist because all involved with the project; the sponsor, network administrators and the other stakeholders (end users, equipment vendors, cabling contractors, customers), assumed that everyone was in agreement at the beginning of the project. But this was not the case. When all parties agree on and understand the scope at the beginning of the project, it is less likely that scope creep will occur.

Finally, should the scope still need to change, simply create a new cost estimate and timeline to accommodate the scope modification. Changes are not necessarily all bad, as long as all involved understand the effects that any changes may have.

Closing out a project. Once the network infrastructure is completed, there are still three major tasks to accomplish before the project can be closed. The first is rather obvious, ensuring the network functions as the customer intended. The customer should perform as many business-related tasks as possible to test the infrastructure and formally sign off accepting the project when complete. The latter will prevent end-of-project scope creep as well as provide a milestone for you to close the chapter on this project.

The second job, too often neglected, is to fully document the network. Remember, one of the goals when the project scope was created was to ensure the manageability and supportability of the network. Network drawings, router configurations, circuit numbers, server disk partition information, IP address assignment—anything and everything that was pertinent to the successful completion of this project should be documented and stored where it can be easily retrieved.

Finally, network projects rarely go exactly to plan, and sometimes surprises occur that could really not have been foretold. A postproject review, particularly of what went wrong, will help prevent the same mistakes from happening on a future project. I recall one network installation in which a concrete slab was poured before conduits were installed, necessitating cutting the slab to install the conduits. The lesson learned was to include regular on-site network infrastructure inspection dates as tasks in the network project plan.

For more information; You don't have to be a certified project management professional to take advantage of project management techniques to aid in your network projects - but it helps!

There are numerous Internet resources related to project management, including the following:
The Project Management Institute is the source of the Project Management Professional as well as other certifications. In addition, Prince2 is the preferred project management methodology and certifications in Europe, particularly in the U.K.