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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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#442: How to Be More Accurate With Uncertainty

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, November 23, 2010
Updated: Tuesday, November 23, 2010
We all know that the only guaranteed thing about all models is that they are wrong. There are too many uncertainties in any model, both in its inputs as well as its design, to do more than give us insights. How are consultants to respond to clients who ask them to build or use a model to predict future outcomes?

While true that models are not, and cannot, be accurate in estimating the future, this does not mean that they are not extremely useful. A model is a representation of the real world as well as we can characterize it. In both the building of the model and in collecting data to support it, we develop greater insight into how our (modeled) piece of the world works. The best think about models is that they can be tested and improved until you have a model that is "good enough," although criteria for that judgment vary with the client.

Where most models fall down is that they try to deterministically predict an outcome when the system they are modeling is probabilistic. Say you are building sales model. Product prices may range depending on economic factors. Number of sale staff may vary with the season. Sales effectiveness may vary as a result of a training program that itself has uncertain outcomes. When you try to build a spreadsheet model whose inputs area all uncertain, the outcomes are barely useful. You are left with saying to your client, "Based on average expected inputs, our best guess of sales is $3.5 million in the fall quarter, but it could be more or less."

There is a powerful alternative: changing a spreadsheet from into a probabilistic model using an add-in called @RISK. This commercial software program allows you to specify a distribution instead of a fixed "best guess" or average input number (including various shapes of the expected distributions). If inputs are correlated, you can even link these distributions (e.g., if customer traffic increases, the available time spent with each customer decreases, which may not be a simple relationship). The more you can model, the better you can understand how your business works.

Tip: How great would it be to say to your client, "We have used historical data on all the factors that affect sales and modeled the effects of enhanced sales training. The most likely impact is a $1.2 million increase in sales, with a 20% probability of it being $1.9 million and an 80% probability of it being at least $1 million"? Then you can tell your client which parameters are hiding in the model that have the greatest impact on decreasing the uncertainty in results. Just using this add-in gives you far greater insight into the business you are advising. Check out the add-in at Palisade.com.

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  assessment  consulting tools  decision making  innovation  risk analysis  technology 

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#375: Take Your Online Searches Deeper

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, August 20, 2010
Updated: Friday, August 20, 2010
Google used to be a great compilation of web information, but now I can't tell if the first few pages of the million plus hits I get are there because they have the content I want or because of clever search optimization techniques. What's coming in technology to make my searches more productive?

Until recently, information searching on the web was largely linear and mechanical - the computer looked for exactly what you specified in your search, adjusted a little by search optimization (which may not be based on factors you considered important). We are headed (slowly) to a "semantic web," in which the computer can execute some of the nuanced search functions only humans could provide. This will require restructuring of information and a host of other changes to fully implement, so we are left with tweaking current technology.

For now, there are two easy approaches, depending on how sophisticated you want to go. First, use a segmented search engine like Yippy (formerly Clusty), which clusters search results. For example, if you look for "management" it will group search results into management systems, software, international, business, etc. categories to give you better direction than a long linear list.

Second, you can "go deep" by using a new Deep Web add-in to your browser. This features returns tag clouds that let you see the context of your results and the relative frequency of hits, and sorts answers by blogs, news, Wikipedia, etc. A Deep Web search provides a more complete view of what exists and enhances your perspective about how to improve your search.

Tip: Don't expect the browser to do all the work. It's as much about your search techniques and choice of keywords and phrases as it is about the technology. If you don't fully understand the question to which you seek answers, the Deep Web or any other technology will not help much.

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  data visualization  information management  knowledge management  technology 

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#177: Death by Power Point - Again

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Updated: Tuesday, November 17, 2009
I cringe every time we are asked to deliver our consulting report to clients. Inevitably, they expect a briefing package and Power Point slide show. Are there some better ways to deliver these reports?

Power Point is just a technology. It is not the reason these presentations are so deadly. It is how you use it that causes angst. There are two strategies. First, if your client requires Power Point, make it less dreadful. The approach is logical: keep slide decks as thin as possible, use as few words possible per slide, use images that support your verbal presentation (not replace it), have a great roadmap so everyone knows where you are going, and practice a lot so the transitions and flow is smooth.

Second, don't do it. Look for alternative presentation approaches. This is a challenge because the nature of findings is analytical and traditionally presented in a linear fashion. I have seen incredibly powerful and memorable presentations with nothing other than photographs. Each image represented the theme of the point being made and none were originally intended to be used in a business setting. You'll have to get your client on board with this approach, but if the presentation is to be more than a data dump.

Tip: You should take Power Point's reputation to heart. Whether it is using a better storyboard (e.g., Beyond Bullet Points) or non-boring technologies (e.g., streaming video, Flash, and other multimedia images), it is you, not Power Point, per se, that is being judged.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  meeting preparation  meetings  presentations  technology 

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#85: Using Short Videos to Build Your Business

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, July 3, 2009
Updated: Friday, July 3, 2009
Brochures are limited in content and doing an in-person seminars about our small consulting firm would reach a limited audience. We have been considering doing a series of videos about our main areas of practice. Do you think these would be effective?

Because consulting is an intangible product, richer communication mechanisms are necessary to more effectively convey a lot of information and create trust. Lower cost technology has made videos easy to produce and is becoming a preferred way of presenting your qualifications as a firm and showcasing your methodology. Consider the presentation you would make to a prospect, write a script and prepare a slide deck or in-person video. Create 5-10 minute videos for each of 3-5 areas of your practice. Just like creating a brochure helps you refine your content, these short videos will provide the discipline to hone both your content as well as your delivery.

Tip: Look at video production packages like Camtasia. This technology will allow you to record PowerPoint presentations with audio narration, transition effects, and zoom and pan. These can be saved as MPEG video, converted to flash or saved for playing on an iPod. These latter make an interesting possibility for instructional videos you can provide your clients or as giveaways to show how you provide services. The vendor also has a free version (called Jing) with limited capabilities.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  communication  innovation  marketing  presentations  proposals  technology 

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#50: How Consultants Can Use Twitter

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, May 15, 2009
This makes no sense to me but I hear people talking about using Twitter for business. Is there anything useful to adding yet another communication I need to keep track of?

Twitter
is a "microblogging" service that lets you send 140 character messages to individuals who are connected to you and to all people who are "following" you. Originally conceived as a way to keep tabs on social activities, it is evolving into an interesting business tool. Twitter users vary considerably in who they are, what they write ("tweet") about and how active they are.

Like many social networking tools being turned into business use, Twitter has a growing following of business users. Who ever thought Facebook or MySpace, the province of students, would ever give rise to into LinkedIn, with more than 600,000 management consultants and 40 million total members? As useful as LinkedIn is (if you are using it effectively and not just assuming your being listed is enough), you are to be forgiven for thinking that Twitter can have little business value.

The trick is to carefully select who you follow. Some of the people I follow are Tony Restell (tonyrestell), the editor of Top-Consultant) who tweets several times a day about new issues in the consulting profession, the Wall Street Journal (wsj) and Fast Company (fastcompany), which let me know about emerging business issues, and an evolving set of people who tweet about R&D and innovation (I will need some time to settle on who I really want to follow).

The other side of the issue is who is following you and how to get more people to follow you. This is not narcissism; it is a solid business strategy to induce people who are interested in your business to hear what you have to say about your research, activities and commentary on current events. One good way to get someone to follow you is to follow them. With a minimum commitment of time, you can communicate with new information sources and current or prospective clients.

Tip: The bottom line is that Twitter is still evolving in how businesses can use it and management consultants should be at the forefront of this trend - if not for themselves, then at least for their clients. Spend a little time looking into how Twitter may be a powerful addition to your business for communication, market research, branding or prospecting. Look at the growing list of articles about business use of Twitter.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  communication  contact information  marketing  technology  trends 

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