Learning is like picking up golden nuggets in a fast-running stream. All of a sudden you’re holding something real and of timeless value. It’s a thing of beauty, but it’s what you do with it that matters.
When we prepare a learning experience, we need to take account of the context within which the learning will be applied. Our courses develop people’s ability to sense, think, plan and deliver; to interpret each situation on its own merits.
Learning by doing is a major part of this. Our learning tools reinforce this capability and our support activities help to provide the actions and energy to turn skills into worthwhile results.
Our training covers project management, leadership competencies, team development, risk attitude, sales techniques, constructive negotiation, supplier management, intercultural awareness, business analysis, customer focus, agile development, project sponsorship and project enterprise management.
We would be very happy for you to contact us.
My address is firstname.lastname@example.org
Or if you prefer: +33 (0) 6 40 15 23 35
Our vocation is to put methods into action and to turn ideas into successful projects.
Our business is to enable individuals, teams and organizations to become more effective at everything that involves projects, innovation and change.
To pursue that goal we prepare and deliver exciting training
programs, we facilitate the development of business models and
processes and we develop the potential of experience and ideas.
Our basic principle is that we build on the integrity, responsibility,
intelligence and potential of individuals and we believe in the capacity of business to deliver quality of work and quality of life.
The lag between learning and performing can be counted in years.
Our aim is to turn years into days. Learning by doing is the method,
but the feedback process is the key to turn the doing into a learning experience.
Small changes can make a big difference. The future isn‚Äôt fixed. It starts from now.
A day without learning is a day without living.
Project management is like a large castle with many rooms. There are many possible variants to the life cycle and the roles, with a strong foundation. We work with the recognized standards and we add value in specific areas of good practice. Firstly, we emphasise the importance of the business goals and the benefits of a partnering relationship with the sponsor and the client. We recommend a thorough scrutiny of the information available to the project, a systematic and creative approach to project definition, and a collective effort when structuring and planning the project. We also put the emphasis on measurable and testable deliverables that have a direct connection to the project requirments and the business goals. We encourage project managers to be leaders and not just expeditors.
To put methods into action we have to be very realistic about what really works.
Many project processes become entirely theoretical when they fail to be applied.
It is far preferable to have an adequate methodology that is usable, useful and actually used by people working together, than a book perfect process that is so paper-oriented that it regresses to an administrative burden.
To turn ideas into successful projects, you’ll often need a catalyst.
You know you can go faster without doing all of the research, preparation and facilitation all by yourself, especially when there are tools that deliver proven results.
Stories are part of our collective memory. A story told is an opportunity to pass learning from one person to the next and onwards through the years. Stories prevent learning from being lost and help us to share what works.
Here are some stories from management, and especially project management.
You are here for a reason.
You may be looking for help with skills development, ideas to improve business results, a tool to use in a team workshop, or simply a story that will help to move things along.
We would like you to contact us and we want to ¬†make the contact easy for you.¬†
For what other purpose would we make a web site for you to visit ?
If you have any questions, you can get in touch ¬†by filling in this¬†Contact form
Ian Stokes is PMP certified with the Project Management Institute (PMI), and an Agile PM DSDM Atern certified trainer, practitioner and examiner.
At present, he is launching a catalogue of agile training courses and also a CAPM¬†certification training program¬†with Business Schools in France, and has recently completed a publication on Project Management¬†for Research and Product Development.
He can be contacted on the following mobile phone¬†number¬† +33 6 81 76 55 39
Here are some brainteasers, thinking exercises and puzzles that reveal things about the way we think. Cognitive psychology, crowd theory, (ir)rationality, the way the brain processes and stores information; there is much to discover inside ourselves.
These insights may help you in your day to day activities and allow you to think differently about the world, to get to know yourself, as well as to increase your understanding of others.
ATERN is a dynamic industry standard for agile evelopment that is business driven. It concentrates on strategic goals and incremental delivery of real business benefits while keeping control of cost, risk and quality. Business agility is enabled through the encouragement of self-directed, empowered teams working together in a supportive and collaborative manner.
The DSDM/Atern web site
We find it easier to interpret information that is formatted in a way that plays to our intuition.¬†¬†Our minds are actually quite good at detecting cheats.¬† It's an important survival instinct.¬†¬†This problem is surprisingly difficult until we reduce its abstraction and make it relate to the kind of situation for which we are wired.¬†¬†You'll see it first in¬†its abstract version, and then in¬†its real world example.¬†
Do you like optical illusions ?¬† Don't worry, these are not hard on the eyes.
Leadership is like an open book, because we all see it in action throughout our lives. Communicating a vision, developing a sense of purpose, managing conflicts, building a team, facilitating change, demonstrating integrity, interpreting events, inspiring action, all of these skills can be developed. Real leadership skills are like any others - they take years of practice. Even charismatic leadership and the arts of being a successful follower are full of facets that can be learned and put into practice.
Risk Attitude could equally be termed survival skills. The attitude provides the motivation. As well as developing a structured approach to risk management through the steps of identification, analysis and articulation, qualification, quantification and prioritization, defining, implementing and managing actions, this course explores some of the cognitive, behavioural and systemic complexities that are part of a risk attitude.
Selling is like the window of the enterprise onto the world; except it never goes out of fashion. Our sales approach is based on relationship selling. Perhaps the most important skill of all is empathy. In sales this means developing a genuine understanding for the customer’s business and personal objectives. And above all we recognize that the buying cycle is at least as important as the selling cycle.
Unstructured negotiation is like two people agreeing to meet on the bridge without leaving their own side of the river. Constructive negotiation must be cooperative in order to explore multiple options simultaneously; and the cooperation requirs a structured approach. Ultimately, good ground work and a climate of trust enable joint problem solving to produce outcomes that satisfy all parties.
World class supplier management is not just a beauty contest. It’s more like an alliance that has to work over a long period of time. Thus both parties must strive to create a climate that will enable the other party to create the conditions that will allow them both to optimize their joint value chain and shared sub-processes. They are mutually interdependent partners. The reality is that opportunities for improvement when trust exists and information can be shared are almost too large to measure.
Mistrust of the strange is part of our survival kit, but intercultural training sets out to make cultures seem more familiar. To work effectively across cultural boundaries people need to understand each other’s values, norms, taboos, traditions and fashions in order to be able to respect them. This includs communication styles, conflict management and negotiation preferences. Intercultural capability is of epic importance. Intercultural ability comes at the top of the list of key competencies for the 21stcentury. And whilst there are many big wins, even from investing small amounts of effort, intercultural skills are still one of the most underinvested areas of management.
When Shakespeare wrote “to be or not to be”, he was not thinking of business analysis, and yet every business challenge has a start ‘as-is’ and an end ‘to-be’ point, and at least two alternative courses of action, to either do something or to continue as before. And the biggest challenge is when business as usual is no longer good enough. These decisions are often taken too late. Thus business analysis is more than skilful modelling, creative analysis, inclusive communication and finely-tuned decision-making. It’s about finding economic ways to experiment with new ways of doing business, sometimes termed business models. Business analysis is an opportunity to increase the sensitivity to the drivers of cost and value.
A customer-oriented business includs marketing, but it also integrates the whole organisation. This is because the whole organisation has to work at identifying not only the needs that the customer recognizes, but also those that the customer is unwilling or unable to express. People don’t confess to consuming fast food, but they’ll profess to purchasing fair-trade products, even though their actual behaviour betrays their intentions. People are told to define their requirments, even though they cannot predict the way the world will be when the solution is applied. And when events change the need, they are blamed for being insufficiently prescient. And yet the definition of new products and services requirs a constant dialogue between the technology and the market. Not everything can be predicted in advance.
Traditional projects fix the scope and establish a budget. With these as non-negotiable constraints, project control efforts concentrate on time management. Agile projects target a deadline for a proportionate cost. The effort switches to managing the scope and making sure that all of the most important functionality is delivered before an agreed date. The usefulness and usability of each function is constantly being assessed. This requirs a great deal of cooperation between the customer and the development team that revolves around managed prototypes and facilitated workshops.
So much attention gets given to the role of the project manager and the project team itself, that the role of the project sponsor and the project governance board often gets overlooked. The skills of a project sponsor are absolutely critical, because the sponsor represents the contact of the project within the organization, the supply of resources to the project and the ownership of the project. The project sponsor needs to be accessible and be prepared to continually explain the organizational imperative to the project, and to defend the project within the organization.
Project portfolio management is about managing resources and deploying them on projects based on the overall business priorities. To achieve such visibility, the resource data need to be summed up from project level to program or intermediate level, to department level and then to corporate level. The process highlights that, as well as priority projects, there are critical activities on non-priority projects. But the real value drives from the openness that the process encourages concerning the allocation of resources based on priorities.
This is a light, minimalist and agile approach to managing projects based on our problem solving cycle: check, think, plan, do. It includs project roles, principles and deliverables. The main principle is that you need fully active and continuous participation from sponsor, client representative, project manager and experts alike, starting from the initiation phase and then throughout the project to create the feedback loops between technologies and market that are critical to success.
The productivity of a creative problem solving workshop can be enhanced by setting up a working environment that is conducive to creative thinking. Preparation and organization therefore lay the foundations for a successful exercise, in the same way that scene setting and rehearsal underlie a successful theatre production. Planning has to be especially methodical, simply because the way a creative problem solving workshop will evolve cannot be entirely anticipated in advance.
We use templates that allow us to build custom-built case studies that are illustrative of your projects – and it only takes a couple of days. Or, we can write the story of one of your most significant projects so that you can use it as a role model, of what to do, or in some cases of what not to do. Projects are fantastic learning experiences and the case study is a way to craft this learning into a form that can be handed on to future project personnel.
Management games are a way for people to enjoy their learning, while at the same time the learning becomes more memorable. When people think about what has happened and resolve to change the way they behave in the future, then the learning translates into something more permanent. Management games are also great for teamwork, and for discovering what works.
Micro-projects create the heart and soul of a project within a condensed experience. Participants adopt roles to design, plan, build, and test a product on behalf of a client. They manage cost, time and scope, brainstorm and analyze risks, manage the quality, prepare and present a project overview and deliver their product.
These activities and exercises are for all of those occasions when you requir an ice-breaker, or an energizer, or a stimulating exercise to get people thinking and discussing and asking themselves questions; or a teamwork activity or process that takes a group through discovery to decisions together.
Your company event is an annual meeting or a departmental convention. Your organization is in the spotlight. Every cent has to make sense and every penny to pay. Amongst all the presentations, workshops and activities, there are decisions to be made, targets to be aligned and resolutions to be deployed. We can help you to boost your event by carefully selecting and preparing management games, by writing specific case studies based on your own projects, and by setting up workshops that accelerate problem solving, stimulate decision-making and bring you closer to your vital business goals.
The reason for a project kick-off is to build the team. This is usually done with some fun activities to build team spirit and team morale, and some serious teamwork to start the project on the right footing; maybe even get some traction to put momentum into the project. Once things get started, the energy level goes up and you begin to create a pattern of success. However, we believe the most important thing you can do is to actually practise with some of the teamwork and communication tools that will be used on the project. Thus the team gets built in a way that will make the real work environment feel familiar. People use even the most common tools like e-mail and spreadsheets in so many different ways, that you need this shared effort to ensure a coherent and common way of working together.
When decision-makers get together they want to make sense of a complex problem, to explore options and to arrive at the best possible result in a short amount of time.
The decision-making can be rather stultified, unless there has been a deliberate effort to prepare and to structure the process. On the other hand, it can be enlightening, inspiring and stimulating, by presenting information in a form that reveals facts and context that supports the participation of the whole decision-making group.
Learning from experience is one of the most important areas where companies can build a strong project management process. The end of a project is a learning opportunity, but so few projects really seize this opportunity. It requirs the presence of the key stakeholders and there willingness to study the story of the project, comparing what actually happened with what was planned: in particular comparing the risks that were analyzed with the risks that occurred, the estimates with the costs. Furthermore, the organization and structure of the project can provide pointers for the future. The learning process needs to be well prepared and followed up so that the lessons learned can be recycled into future projects.
A step by step analysis and construction of a new process looks and feels very rational and analytical. But, process analysis can be extremely creative. It relies on a very clear definition of the stream of value that should be delivered to customers, and then potentially the improvement of each individual step as well as the optimization of the overall system. A process analysis and enhancement approach has enormous interest in terms of helping the company to agree on what really matters and on the detailed action plan necessary to build a competitive edge.
Team creativity cannot always be called to order. But an awareness of how creativity works can be very helpful: including the boosters and the obstacles. People have different creative styles, and so the workshop should be flexible in order to allow break-out groups and changes of rhythm. An inspiring backdrop, well-researched subject matter, a focused objective create the conditions for success.
Change management has become a routine activity, more business as usual than anything exceptional. However, successful change management requirs exceptional management ability and leadership style. Change management takes individuals through a transition. Each individual may perceive the change differently, be part of a group that reacts more or less positively, and again be part of the organisation that may demonstrate alacrity or take much more time. Therefore the change leader must work at many different levels, and take account of the nature dynamic of transitions.
The "Big Stink" was a time in the summer of 1858 when the smell of untreated sewage almost overwhelmed the people of central London. Until then, London people had relied for their water on shallow wells. Water was also carried from the Thames and seeped from the Thames into the wells. The Thames contaminated with outflows from toilets, abattoirs and industrial waste was a severe health hazard. Cholera was rife.
The Metropolitan Board of Water accepted a scheme from Joseph Bazalgette and within 6 years the problem was cured. The rate of cholera in London, previously the highest in the world, went down to zero. Remarkably, Bazalgette took the long term view. His words were that since this was only going to be done once, it should be done well. And he proposed a doubling of the size of the sewage channels.
One hundred years later, without this extra capacity, London would have been flooded. Bazalgette was quite a visionary. He invested more in the poorer quarters of London than in the richer residential areas; and this in the time of Dickens.
Two generations previously Joseph Bazalgette’s grandfather had emigrated to America from a lonely hamlet on the Causse de Sauveterre above Ispagnac in the Gorges du Tarn in Central France.
He fought the British with the Marquis de Lafayette, before emigrating to England and becoming the Prince Regent's tailor. The English are very forgiving ;-) and were well paid back. Son John Bazalgette became a colonel in the British army.
More generations downstream and a descendent of the family is the creator of the Big Brother reality TV show. Sometimes you need to take the long term view !
Several years ago, car radios were manufactured in a way that allowed the entire radio to be removed from the car in order to prevent theft. The problem was that the radio was heavy, and difficult to fit into a briefcase or a handbag. Furthermore, thieves grew wise to the fact that people would often leave the radios underneath the seats or in the glove compartment. They started to break into cars just in case.
A Parisian lady had the idea that it would be useful to remove just the front of the radio. Not only that, but she also took the time to patent the idea; and she took the concept to the manufacturers. The car radio engineers pointed out that the lady was not an electronics engineer, nor had she worked in the industry. However, beginning with some brave pioneers, the manufacturers eventually accepted the idea.
Today we all buy car radios with a façade that can be removed and carried in a small bag, or even in our pockets. The car radio manufacturers have benefited enormously. Today a manufacturer can build only three of four platforms, for many dozens of car radios. They have the perfect architecture, with the generic components isolated in the platform, and the customized parts and circuits set apart in the façade. How else would you know which parts to customize and which to keep generic? The customized parts are the ones that the customer can see or use.
The Wright Brothers are credited with the first manned flight at Kittyhawk in 1903.
Actually, theirs was not the first manned flight. Otto Lilienthal flew over 300 times in the 1890s. Clement Ader flew a full 50 metres in 1890. Sir George Cayley flew a glider in 1853. Chinese, Arabic, Greek, Persian, Indian, Russian, African pioneers are said to have achieved flight imany years before. What the Wright Brothers really achieved was to solve the problem of motorised flight: in other words, they were the first to describe the problem correctly.
For them the problem was not to lift a manned aircraft off the ground, using a powerful engine and a very light framework. The problem is to control the apparatus once it is airborne. The Wright Brothers were originally bicycle makers. They recognized the problem as being one of balance and control. And they built the first wind tunnel, where they could study the performance of the wings under different conditions.
They were able to analyse the situation that had caused the enterprising Otto Lilienthal to crash on his last flight. Other more celebrated engineers mocked the Wright Brothers. The Smithsonian Institute had a budget many times larger. What could bicycle craftsmen working on a shoe-string budget possibly contribute?
When we look back on those pioneering efforts, it is not the Wright Brothers that make us chuckle; it’s the old sepia films of hopelessly optimistic craft with ridiculously light frames collapsing on the runway.
Define the problem correctly, build a prototype, obtain the feedback, identify the source of the problem, and you are on your way to success on your project.
The favourability towards a brand is strongly correlated with the degree of recognition. This means that even in a crisis the overall impact on the brand or corporate image does not have to be negative. If the situation is handled skilfully and sensitively, the consequences can even be positive.
A few years ago an oil company was promoting sales by giving away toys at petrol stations. The toys they gave away were ‘smurfs’, which are cute little figurines in sky blue, each of which is recognizable - farmer smurf, tailor smurf, painter smurf, baker smurf, drummer smurf, etc.
It was drummer smurf that caused the problem. On the drum was black dye and in the black dye was lead. When this was discovered and revealed it became national news. Suddenly, a 3 person sales promotion operation, lost in the cogs of a 100,000 person company, was front page news. At last the sales promotion activity was attracting attention, but it was a disaster.
However, all smurfs were pulled out of petrol stations, immediately. The incident had become a crisis and it was handled like a crisis should be handled: instant reaction, honest communication, fair compensation. When the spotlight is on, you might as well take the opportunity to do a good job. After the communication campaign, awareness duly rose and favourability increased!
Chatelet RER station is at the heart of Paris where all the train lines cross. At rush hours there are hoards of people coming and going. The trains are full and a klaxon sounds when the doors are about to close. I could have taken the next train, except that it would have been even more crowded. Then suddenly I saw running towards me the largest and most forbidding son of Africa I’d ever seen since Foreman fought Ali in Kinshasa. He was charging straight at me, and looking right at me, and in his hand he was holding something that looked like it was aimed at my chest. The klaxon continued, as I prayed for the doors to close, feeling right then as if I was surely about to die. But the man, with his blue cloak billowing behind him managed to reach me, and as he stretched out his arm, the doors were closing, but he’d arrived just in time …. to give me back my wallet!
In 1852 Napoleon III asked Baron Haussmann to take charge of the renovation of Paris. At that time many parts of the city were like a rat warren of festering alleyways.
Contrary to what springs to mind, Haussmann’s Paris was largely built up by private entrepreneurs. The design of the new Paris was a great example of urbanisation, this very contemporary term used to describe an enabling and resilient architecture.
Each building was to be built to a height of six storeys, plus the rounded roof at the top, of 45°. Entrances were at street level: no steps going up or down. Thus, now in the 21st century, a pram of a wheelchair can enter without constraint. And less exultantly, Napoleon III’s armies could proceed unimpeded deep into the heart of the rebellious city.
Military prowess was not Napoleon III’s forte. On the field of battle, he was second best to Napoleon I, or more crucially to Bismarck of Prussia. But, for 'urbanisation': peerless. A ‘Service Oriented Architecture’ in a French technology centre could be described as urbanisation. Like Haussmann, with a few simple rules, you can lay down the foundations of a harmonious architecture and like Haussmann, define a legacy.
A mobile phone project was six weeks away from completion. Then suddenly there was a new requirment – for another language option to be added to the menu. The language requested was Hebrew, the department doing the requesting, Marketing, who else?
Of course, the project manager wanted nothing to do with it. After all, with the launch date so close, such a change could only delay the project. But, Marketing had a cast iron case. The leading network operator in Israel had promised to make the product a standard, but obviously only under condition that the menus includ their own language.
The potential gains were huge. At this point, one development engineer was of the opinion that other languages such as Arabic should be includd, since both Hebrew and Arabic share a common characteristic, which is that they read from right to left instead of from left to right.
A linguistics expert took this a step further: a surprising number of the world’s languages also go from right to left; why stop at Hebrew and Arabic? To be short: suddenly, no two people in the team shared the same opinion. Yesterday, they had been a team sharing the same views on the project priorities. Today, there was no longer a team. Because of the change proposal, consensus had exploded.
A workshop was convened. At the end of the workshop, the team was back in shape, the priorities concurred. The phone would be launched on time, and the menu would includ Hebrew. However, several low priorities, like the play station, had been dropped from the bottom of the menu, to be includd probably in the next version of the mobile phone.
Who is the customer? Many people say the person who pays for the product. It’s easy to forget about the user and the operator, the manufacturer and the reseller, and all the other parties who are involved in the life of a product. The need to anticipate future trends in market demand makes it essential for companies to get a better understanding of the requirments of the entire ‘decision making unit’.
A company making miniature pumps for perfume bottles evolved from a technical focus to a customer focus. Models of pumps on the company walls and in the showcases gave way to images of perfumes and advertisements for perfumes. The company conscientiously invested the look and feel of the bottle for the consumers. When making a perfume for men, the result will be different if the man is a sportsman, or a fashion conscious male in a nightclub, or perhaps both at the same time.
And if the cap on the bottle is to have a shiny finish, then that requirs a special kind of plastic. And if the plastic can split, or be scratched or scraped, then that implies a specific kind of chemical preparation, or fabrication, or logistics, or packaging, etc.
Company representatives listened to the designer as she requested a ‘hot black’ for the bottle. But, what is a hot black in quantifiable terms? Will that provide the desired ’scent of the night’. Exploration and feedback between the customer, the designer and the laboratory gave the answer. The black that met with the designer’s approval, contained a large proportion of yellow. A colour is something that is quantifiable. Consumer tastes and even fashion trends can be measured and tracked.
In a production environment, improvement must be continuous and relentless. To stay world class a company must examine every problem, every constraint, every imperfection and diagnose, measure, analyse, brainstorm, design, implement and control everything from tiny improvements to major breakthroughs, constantly.
In a service environment, every customer is an individual who may have unique needs. A word here, a smile there, a moment of opportunity well managed can make the difference, the unique selling proposition, beyond the competition in order to prolong the partnership. In the world of medicine, medical equipment and health services any changes can be lethal. Thus everything is thoroughly tested before implementation in order not to incur the risk of harm. But, habits get ingrained and die hard.
A surgeon from one European country transferred to another European country. In the home country, when an experienced surgeon had finished with the main part of an operation, an apprentice would take over to finish the stitching whilst the expert took a break or moved on to the next operation. Meanwhile, in the host country when the experts had finished the main operation, the experts had to do the stitching themselves, before taking a break. This took half as long again for an experienced and rare resource. Providing less opportunity for breaks also increases risk, and furthermore reduces the opportunities for skills transfer to apprentices.
However, in the host country they were not ready to change. Such practices become ingrained and implicate a whole host of institutional factors.
A change order management system should be fit for purpose. If the project is highly creative, then ideas must be encouraged. A simple note, with a description of the idea, likely benefits and possible costs, may be enough. However, in a safety sensitive and operational context, the change order process may be subject to more checks and scruples, and can be made especially thorough.
The operations for a satellite launch are extremely sensitive to change. The infrastructure of a rocket launch site is a system that has to be error resistant and error tolerant, robust and secure. Reliability is a watchword and if any change might possibly prevent something from working, then it should be rejected.
One change proposal seemed like a no-brainer. In order to speed up the work stations used for the launch campaigns, the suggestion was to slow down some other work stations that were used for managing the car pool. The reason given for rejecting the change was astonishing: "Users would not be able to comprehend why two identical work stations would not have the same performance." What is this? Libert, equality and fraternity for work stations?
But, they were right to reject the change request. It was rejected for the right reasons. The benefits were not explicit, there had been no lobbying, promotion or marketing of the change, and the risks had not been quantified. Furthermore, any change that you could introduce has an opportunity cost. The change should offer at least the return on investment that you could obtain by investing the effort elsewhere. So given the competition to spend money, any counter-benefits, including change management overhead, can harm your business case.
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