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Between 2005 and 2011, IMC published Daily Tips every weekday on consulting ethics, marketing, service delivery and practice management. You may search more than 800 tips on this website using keywords in "Search all posts" or clicking on a tag in the Top Tags list to return all tips with that specific tag. Comment on individual tips (members and registered guests) or use the Contact Us form above to contact Mark Haas CMC, FIMC, Daily Tips author/editor. Daily Tips are being compiled into several volumes and will be available through IMC USA and Mark Haas.

 

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#708: Consultants Must Understand "Big Data"

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, November 30, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, November 30, 2011
Clients are asking us to help them analyze large datasets of what traditionally would be considered peripheral data - the kind of data collected but never intended to be used. Is this something that other consultants are being asked to do and in which we should develop a capability?

The past few decades have seen an exponential increase in both intensive and extensive data collection. The sources of these data range from discrete business processes to consumer behavior to geographical information to global finance. The resulting aggregate datasets provide an unprecedented ability to analyze trends and patterns of complex behaviors in business, politics and consumer behavior. We have also developed prodigious new technologies to collect, store, search, visualize, analyze and share these data. With deference to privacy concerns, the ability to link these datasets to each other provides the analytical foundation to model and understand and predict future behavior of complex systems.

The term "big data" refers to datasets that exceed the capability of traditional commercially available analytical software. What could Walmart do with the data from 1 million transactions per hour? How about a marketer and millions of LinkedIn person to person connections? Consider the implications fro healthcare, finance, manufacturing, services, government and R&D, with estimates of savings from use of big data ranging into the hundreds of billions annually in the US alone. As companies are more able to collect and use larger data sets, consultants must be aware of the potential applications and the techniques available to them. A growing number of companies are specializing in big data service, whose activities ar a good idea to follow and whose services you could use to best serve your clients.

Tip: The McKinsey Global Institute issued a report Big Data; The Next Frontier for Innovation, Competition and Productivity That discusses these concepts and provides a good insight into where consultants are most needed.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  consulting terminology  data visualization  information management  innovation  knowledge assets  knowledge management  trends 

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#707: Increase Your Consulting S/N Ratio

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, November 29, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, November 29, 2011
Consultants appreciate a client who provides a lot of information to begin an engagement if it helps us get up to speed and avoids redoing analyses already done or data already collected. Recently, however, many clients "helpfully" give us every bit of data they have to start an engagement, which can be a real burden. How do we efficiently use it without incurring a scope increase just to sort through it?

Of course we want just the relevant data and not an invitation to view the client's file room. Both the consultant and client share the responsibility for information triage. In electronics, a measure of signal quality relative to the background noise is the S/N (signal to noise) ratio. This is a useful concept for consultants starting a project. Your first weeks often involve digesting data (hopefully information), product and market research, personnel records, strategy and planning documents, and the opinions of many people inside and outside the organization.

You want to increase the signal (accurate, timely, relevant, quality and usable information) to noise (inaccurate, outdated, irrelevant, low quality, and false information) ratio. Without straying into electronics engineering, the preferred approach to improve the measurement of the desired signal is to minimize the interference of background noise. This means working with the client to specify only that information (sometimes raw data) that you have a process to use. It is easy to get caught in the trap of wanting to absorb all the available information and then decide how to use it. Stick to your information management and analysis plan (you did specify these in your engagement project plan, right?) and the noise will decrease.

Tip: The concept of signal to noise ratio is useful in other areas. What is your website's S/N ratio (useful and sticky information compared to total content)? What about your presentations (how many PowerPoint slides does it take to make your point compared to the total size of the slide deck)? Your marketing (how often do prospects have to ask follow up questions about your marketing calls)? Increase your consulting S/N ratio in all your communication.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  analysis  communication  customer understanding  diagnosis  information management 

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#690: Social Bookmarking is a Key Tool for Consultants

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, November 4, 2011
Updated: Friday, November 4, 2011
Consultants use the Internet for information, techniques and research. My colleagues, as well your Daily Tips, provide great URLs but I've heard about social bookmarking as a way to find better sites faster. What is social bookmarking?

Think about trying to organize all your favorite sites or articles from among the billions of web pages. You bookmark good sites and tell your friends, but the web is too dynamic for you to find, much less organize or keep up to date, them all. You can subscribe to clipping services or Google Alerts, both of which will feed you a stream of data. The problem is that these are mechanically and keyword generated and may not be really what interests you.

Social bookmarking is a better way to organize your bookmarks through tagging and to take advantage of the best thinking and judgment of your peers to collectively identify the most relevant sites. You have better and faster access to sites you can use in ways you wouldn't otherwise ever have known about.

A social bookmarking survey (a few years ago) showed that 6 out of 7 people don't use social bookmarking (also called content discovery services) because they don't know about them, don't understand how they work or don't understand their value. If you haven't heard of Reddit, Digg, StumbleUpon, Technorati or other sites, sign up for them and start getting advice from those you know and trust, not just those generated by a machine. It will amaze you how much interesting and useful content you can have fed regularly to you.

Tip: Like any new skill or practice, this is worth a few minutes of your time to master. It goes without saying that your client can benefit from your showing them how to keep up with the latest technology. Who doesn't want to look like a star to our clients?

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  information management  market research  social media  technology 

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#685: Consultants Need to Understand Type I and Type II Errors

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, October 28, 2011
Updated: Friday, October 28, 2011
I always hear about Type I and Type II errors in business and how important it is that consultants understand these concepts. Why should I care about this?

People are referring to a statistical concept where a Type I error is a false positive and Type II error is a false negative. For the statistician, a Type I error is rejecting the null hypothesis when it should have been accepted. For a businessperson or consultant, a Type I error is seeing something that is not really there. Type II errors are missing something that is really there (and potentially company making or breaking).

A Type II error (false negative) can be serious when looking at competitive markets or human resource issues such as culture or employee opinions. Inadequate surveys or incomplete analysis may lead a consultant to conclude that there are not serious competitors or impending revolts among employees when, in fact, there are. Depending on the situation, a Type II error may result in serious losses for a company or put it out of business.

False positives are of most interest to consultants engaging in diagnostic or investigative activities, in two ways. As a consultant whose job it is to find problems to solve or opportunities to capture, we are looking for something on which to act. Maybe a process is "broken" or a market is "large and available" to your client. In either case, you may identify something that is not really significant enough to expend resources on. Alternatively, as a result of your activities, you conclude that your impact is significant when it really is not. In both cases, you have overstated the significance, or even existence, of your role to the client. Understanding Type I and Type II errors gives you good perspective on your role and significance to a client.

Tip: Think in terms of medical testing when you consider how you are going to control for Type I and Type II errors. The worst outcome when looking for a serious disease is to conclude it is not present when it is (Type II). To accommodate that, we use screening procedures that are relatively fast, cheap and for which we can tolerate a Type I (false positive) error. As a consultant, you may want to develop protocols that let you quickly tease out potential problem areas and for which you recognize there may be Type I errors. Those items that show up may be real or, more likely, false positives. Then you can proceed with more focused and rigorous protocols to look more closely at an issue, recognizing that what you want to avoid is a Type II error (false negative). You don't have to be a statistician to understand the concept and how your ability to mitigate risk on behalf of your client is a significant value added.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  analysis  assessment  assumptions  consulting terminology  consulting tools  diagnosis  information management  recommendations  risk analysis  statistics 

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#650: The Follow Up Call

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, September 9, 2011
Updated: Friday, September 9, 2011
I am building a prospect pipeline with a contact application and have prepared for a series of networking events to attend to kick off my initial contacts. Other than capturing the names and relevant information from people I met and consider potential leads, what else do I need?

You are off to a good start. Capturing leads in a formal way, whether it is on a sheet of paper or in a software contact manager on your smartphone, is essential to managing a prospect pipeline. A box of scraps of paper and business cards as a strategy for getting clients is looking for trouble. Let's not get into how the contacts make it into your list, but the critical next step after first contact: the follow up call.

Following up means doing it before the memory fades (yours and theirs) and doing it in a way that leads to a higher probability of a good business relationship. Once you have identified a person who is marginally qualified, you should follow up to set a time to discuss a mutual business relationship. This is your chance to decide whether and how you commit valuable time to pursue the relationship or you will drop them in the "cool" (as in not worth pursuing right now) contact list.

Tip: The follow up call should be done within 3-5 days, preferably the next business day. You should have a follow up call script that includes a reiteration of the circumstances that brought you together, the premise of why your two businesses might productively work together, your interpretation of pressing needs of the other person (and questions you could ask to verify), an example of work you have done that relates to this need, an offer of a contact or piece of information of value to the other person (goodwill), a possible working relationship you could mutually benefit from, and suggested next steps to move toward that working relationship. Preparation and some forethought, along with not letting the prospect get cold, are the keys to turning a business card stuffed onto your pocket into a live prospect or partner.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  consulting colleagues  goodwill  information management  networks  prospect  sales 

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