A Note on UKIP and the Illogic of Voting for It

At least one of my friends and one of my relatives are considering voting for the UKIP (United Kingdom Independence Party) candidate in next week’s General Election. As far as I can tell, both may do so largely as a protest against ‘interference’ from Brussels.

ballot

But this doesn’t make sense to me. Never mind that UKIP has put forward some very unsavoury candidates, whom their ‘normalisation’ project hasn’t quite succeeded in disguising. Rather, I take issue with any argument based largely on ‘interference’.

Doesn’t all government ‘interfere’, whether at village, town, county, regional, national or supranational level. Isn’t that what we elect a government to do? There’s undue pettiness, admittedly, in almost every  human institution, and we should constantly reform the machinery of state wherever we can, not least at EU level, but better to get on with that than get out of it.

I fear and distrust UKIP and any party that represents a particular national interest. I see no reason to believe that interference at national level is acceptable and at supranational level not. It all depends, of course, on the extent to which you feel you belong at one level or another. I am English, British, European, and human, so I accept the legitimacy of ‘interference’ at all of these levels, including, at the highest level, the United Nations. I have great difficulty in thinking of myself as British alone.

True, I don’t fully know what’ it means to feel European, but don’t ask me to say how it feels to be British either. Both notions, I hope, will always defy definition. Define them, and you start to hear the baying of thugs. Don’t be fooled by the fact that Britain can be more easily geographically defined than most countries.

UKIP, with its little Britisher mentality is certainly not for me.

So, don’t pretend the argument is about ‘interference’ alone. If you don’t want ‘interference’ vote Anarchist, if that isn’t a logical contradiction.

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The One Habit of More Interesting People

The one habit of more interesting people is that THEY DON’T READ SELF-HELP BUSINESS BOOKS.

books

I’m expressing an exaggerated view but I really can’t bear books that have titles such as The Three Types of Leader, The Seven Habits of Successful People, The Nine Ways of Improving Your Organizational Skills, etc.

Why does each title contain a number, and usually a small one. Is it assumed that we can’t grasp larger ones?

These books offer the promise that the world is simple, that mastery means you don’t have to count higher than ten. They’re a shortcut to wisdom, I suppose. They suggest that human behaviour might be amenable to categorisation, to prediction, always capable of explanation, and that pulling this or that lever in the mind, or pressing this or that button, will have predictable consequences. I do not believe in the scientific approach to human behaviour.

In real life, there are as many human differences as there are people in the world. Rather read The Two Trillion Habits of Successful People, or The Three Billion Types of Leader.

To be fair, these dreary volumes may perhaps contain some useful suggestions here and there, but for an explanation of human behaviour, read novels, biography or even poetry, or just listen to gossip on the bus.

I set myself a challenge. I looked on Amazon for a self-help book for every number between one and ten, and then a few more.

  • Leadership: The Top 100 Best Ways To Be A Great Leader
  • How to Talk to Anyone: 92 Little Tricks for Big Success in Relationships
  • The 48 Laws Of Power
  • The 22 Immutable Laws Of Marketing
  • The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People Will Follow You
  • The Power of Positive Thinking: 10 Traits for Maximum Results
  • 9 Steps to Being a Better Manager
  • The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness
  • The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
  • The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem
  • The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable
  • The 4-Hour Work Week: Escape the 9-5
  • The Three Levels of Leadership
  • The Two-Second Advantage
  • The One Thing: The surprisingly simple truth behind extraordinary results 

Ghastly.

I think Hamlet got it right.

What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason,
how infinite in faculties, in form and moving,
how express and admirable in action, how like an angel in apprehension,
how like a god!

Unspoken Assumptions – More on the Client / Consultant Relationship

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I wrote some notes last week on the unspoken assumptions that govern (or fail to govern) the relationship between a client and a consultant. Put together, these might constitute a Services Charter that formally documents the way in which Client and Consultant work together.

Better to write these things down than deal with misunderstandings later. Misunderstandings impact on revenue and reputation.

customer supplier

Services Charter

Here’s a further set of clauses that such a charter might include::

Working Practices

Working Time

Professional service time includes all time during which professional staff are adding value to the client through project or assignment work, on the assumption that such time is spent efficiently on relevant issues falling within the scope of the project or assignment during reasonable working hours or agreed overtime.

Such time is not always spent at the client’s place of work, but when time is spent elsewhere this is by agreement.

All working time is recorded by professional staff using the Professional Services Organization’s (PSO’s) professional services software and is subject to review and approval for invoicing by the PSO’s project managers and/or services managers as well as by the client. The PSO’s presumption is that project and assignment time will be invoiced whether on-site or off-site.

Sometimes the client will be unable to verify that time reported by professional staff has been spent in the way each individual has reported (especially if the work is done off site, but also at times when the work is done on site), but the working relationship between the PSO and the client requires a degree of trust on this matter. If the client wishes to dispute such time then he or she may do so (see Disputes).

The PSO’s time recording software records time to the nearest (greater) quarter of an hour in respect of time spent by the PSO’s staff. Thus if 10 minutes are spent, a quarter of an hour will be reported.

For on-site assignments a minimum of two hours is charged for an assignment. This mitigates the inefficiencies (lost consulting time) incurred by the PSO when consultants move between locations, and encourages clients to consider ‘packaging’ issues into assignments of greater duration, whether ad-hoc or project assignments. Doing this is mutually beneficial.

Working time will usually be standard time for the location. This is determined by the location of the client. In general, unless required otherwise, the client’s working conventions (arrival and departure times) will be observed by the PSO. When projects are executed at the client’s location and full days are worked by the PSO’s staff, a full day will be reported and charged when the client’s hours are observed. In these circumstances, if a client specifically asks the PSO’s staff to arrive late or leave early, a full day will nevertheless be reported and charged, unless other terms have been agreed in advance.

Working Conditions

Safety

The client is responsible for providing for the PSO’s staff with a safe and clean working environment, with sufficient space made available for the conduct of his or her work. This will usually mean a specific working space or desk where the consultant can work without distraction.

Refreshments and Meals

The client is responsible for providing for the consultant access to refreshments, such as tea, coffee, and water. There is no obligation on the client to provide these free of charge.

The client is responsible for providing for the PSO’s staff access to meals at mealtime, either in the client’s staff restaurant or through recommendation of a local restaurant.

Both parties understand that pauses of a few minutes (sometimes including smoking breaks) are part of working life, and this applies equally to professional work. We believe it is reasonable that pauses of up to five minutes occur every hour, though this by no means confers a right to such breaks in circumstances that make such breaks inconvenient.

The duration of meal breaks will conform to local standards and will not usually be reported as or considered as consulting time unless they are effectively ’working lunches’ with the client’s staff, where serious issues pertaining to the project or the assignment are discussed. If meals are taken with the client and as a consequence the duration of the meal exceeds local standards, the PSO reserves the right to treat the excess time as services time spent with the client.

Interruptions

We generally discourage our professional staff from making personal phone calls, reading or preparing emails that are not relevant to the client’s assignment, or from browsing the internet for irrelevant purposes. However, it is understood that occasional private calls, even calls to other clients, when important, are part of everyday life. When these exceed more than five minutes the client may dispute charges for this time. We generally discourage clients from making unarranged calls to staff when they are not working on the client’s project or assignment.

Environment

The client is responsible for ensuring that the PSO’s staff ‘s working environment is quiet and comfortable, and that professional staff are not interrupted or otherwise prevented from making progress with the project or assignment.

Standards of Behaviour

The PSO requires that clients behave respectfully towards its staff, just as the PSO enjoins its staff to behave in a respectful manner towards the client’s staff. Ideally this is a friendly relationship based on mutual respect and common goals.

In this relationship anger, as well as other displays of emotion, is inappropriate. Where there may be cause for anger, we would ask the client to abide by the procedures laid out in Disputes just as we ask our staff to do so.

In situations where the client engages in angry, insultingly disrespectful or verbally aggressive behaviour we ask our staff to request a pause, or to withdraw from the situation. The PSO reserves the right to withdraw professional staff permanently from the project or assignment when this situation occurs frequently or is extreme.

Furthermore, the PSO reserves the right to withdraw from meetings or gatherings or from the working environment if disputes between the client’s staff are unduly emotional.

Standards of Appearance

Unless agreed otherwise consultants will wear business attire. If the client permits, consultants will wear business casual or more informal clothes.

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Last instalment on Friday.

Foresight and the Lack of It

In retrospect, it’s easy to see where foresight was lacking. Retrospect is always the best seat in the house. How often do we think, ‘Why didn’t they think of that before they started?’ and how rarely, ‘How clever they were to think of that!’

ahead

On the one hand…

How I hate airport departure gates without power sockets. You end up crouching near the one that’s used for the vacuum cleaner, if someone else hasn’t got there first.

How I hate hotel bedrooms without extra power sockets, too, as if they were built before the notebook PC or the mobile phone were invented (sometimes they were). You crawl under the desk to disconnect the minibar or the television.

(I can’t live far from a power socket, obviously.)

And on the other hand…

How brilliantly the London Olympics of 2012 were planned. They thought of everything.

In Prague I’ve come across both foresight (on a massive scale) and the lack of it. Both concern the airport.

On the one hand…

How brilliantly the Prague Airport Authority has planned for future expansion (or did they just get their sums wrong?). Terminal 2, opened some years ago, has space for at least twice as many check-in desks as are currently in use. There’s a vast empty space that isn’t used at all, not even for badminton.

Prague Airport

And on the other hand…

How could they have forgotten to build an escalator at the recently opened metro station that joins up with the airport bus? Passengers arrive with masses of heavy luggage and there’s just a long flight of steps to the bus.

Prague’s transport planners are currently a laughing stock. It has something to do with limited EU funds, apparently. The solution? Prague Airport pays two porters to help you with your luggage. See them here.

metro

Don’t Take the Source Code

source code

The most difficult questions are the most open ones. What would you do if you were Prime Minister? Better to be asked specific questions: What would you do about school dinners, or Iraq, or capital punishment, or conscription, or food labelling or the railways? If the questions are more particular then you’ll probably have an opinion, or at least something to say.

I remember English composition lessons at school. Write a story, the teacher would say, and I wouldn’t know where  to begin. Write a story about four-eyed Martians and I’d know where to start. Complete freedom is paralysing. When everything is possible, nothing comes to mind.

For somewhat different reasons, being able to do anything at all with business systems is also terrifying. Partly, perhaps, because you don’t know where to start, but ,mainly because you don’t know when to stop.

Although nothing falls entirely into one or the other category, you can roughly divide business systems into those where you get the source code, and which you can do anything with, and those where you don’t get the source code, where possibilities are constrained.

I like constraints. When there are constraints, possibilities are very many fewer, and there are clear choices to make. This is the better situation.

Of course, if you get the source code you can build something that does exactly what you want to do (well, what you want to do NOW), but it will take you forever and cost you an infinite sum. When you don’t get the source code you may get 90% of what you want at a reasonable price, and soon. Moreover, you will find upgrades immensely easier.

I worked years ago, as a consultant, with an oil company that decided to take one of the largest business systems in the world, adapt the source code and implement it globally. The project was immensely expensive, took far longer than planned, and when the system was ready it was already out of date and impossible to upgrade. The system was abandoned in favour of another even bigger one that needed less adaptation.

And at LLP Group, a software reseller, where I work, we had two divisions – one selling Microsoft’s modifiable Dynamics software, where our projects were often disastrous, and one selling Infor’s non-modifiable software, where our projects were manageable, satisfying and profitable.

Don’t touch the source code!

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Unspoken Assumptions – Do we have the same understanding as our customers as to what consulting means?

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I’ve blogged extensively about how the performance of a professional services company might be measured (see PSO Posts). I identified eight different measurements. At least five of these can be affected by your customer’s perception or misperception of your business:

  • Standard Fee Variance will be affected by the willingness of a client to accept a PSO’s most profitable fee rates
  • Utilisation will be affected by the way a PSO and client work together
  • Realisation will be affected by the willingness of a client to accept that a PSO’s work is chargeable
  • WIP Days will be affected by the willingness of a client to accept an invoice
  • Debtor Days will be affected by the client’s willingness to pay

Many aspects of the relationship between you and your customer are defined by contract, but in my experience assumptions by one side or the other are often undocumented, and when it matters, it turns out that they differ.

customer supplier

It makes sense for a PSO to agree in advance the way in which both parties should work together. You might think that these understandings should be part of the Terms of Reference for a particular project, but they are often sufficiently general, and summarise the style and philosophy of a PSO so comprehensively, that there is some value in publishing these terms and agreeing them separately, even in advance of project negotiation. They can be useful during the sales process, clarifying what the buyer is buying and the seller, selling.

A Services Charter fulfils this need and might cover the following areas:

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Introduction

Principles

Client Involvement

  • Limitations
  • Client Engagement
  • Communication

Working Practices

  • Working Time

Working Conditions

  • Safety
  • Refreshments and Meals
  • Interruptions
  • Environment
  • Standards of Behaviour
  • Standards of Appearance

Commercial Issues

  • Expenses
  • Travel Time
  • Account Management
  • Cancellations
  • Commercial Issues
  • Issues Arising from Non-Payment

Project Issues

  • Projects (Scoped Fixed Price / Time and Materials / Etc.)
  • Scoped Fixed Price projects
  • Time and Materials projects
  • Time-Hire Projects
  • Outsource ‘Functional’ Work
  • Training
  • Acceptance
  • Project Management

Disputes

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Let’s start with the first three sections of such a Charter:

Introduction

This document sets out the principles and assumptions that underlie the provision of services by the PSO to a client. It is not a contractual document, but the signature of both parties indicates acceptance that this charter governs day-to-day relations between the parties.

Principles

Independence and neutrality

A client should expect honest, impartial, objective advice and guidance from professional staff, who, from the moment of engagement, must have the client’s best interests in mind, whatever the commercial implications for the PSO.

Where the PSO is represented by a team of consultants, advice must be seen as collective, and must be formed in a disciplined and methodical manner, led by a senior member of the team, a project manager or services manager responsible for the assignment or project. Any professional staff holding a different view, must have the option to express this view through the team’s spokesman, but professional staff should not express, nor should a client foster, dissident views in a manner that undermines team work, and team responsibility.

Professional advice is given in good faith in the circumstances. These circumstances will reflect:

  •  Agreed needs of the client
  • Agreed priorities of the client
  • Financial limitations of the project or assignment
  • Deadlines
  • Skills available to the PSO
  • Skills available within the client’s organisation
  • Other factors

These may change, but a complete set of agreed, documented assumptions must always be at hand.It must also be understood that staff are fallible, and that whilst they accept responsibility for mistakes and the correction of those mistakes, they cannot on occasion avoid making them.

However, staff must always identify, admit and correct errors in their work or judgement. In some cases, mistakes and their correction should be seen as part of the working process (such as, in the joint development of systems), and because they are not surprising, plans must reflect the fact that they will occur.

The client will sometimes disagree with the judgement of professional advisers, even when all assumptions are agreed and there are no disagreements as to fact. In this case, whilst registering disagreement, a professional adviser should continue to advise the client and to accept the client’s judgement, though in some extreme cases the adviser may choose to withdraw from the project or assignment, if a reasonable case can be made for doing so.

In giving advice, staff do so against a background of stated assumptions.

Limitations

By default, a professional adviser is never an executive within a client’s organisation, and should not take responsibility for the client’s staff or their work unless (as perhaps in the case of interim management) he has specific, published authority to do so.

A professional adviser is never the legal representative of the client and is not responsible for statements, verbal or financial, that have legal repercussions for the client.

A professional adviser advises, and does not act in the place of any of the client’s staff, unless this is specifically agreed.

Client Involvement

Client Engagement

Projects and assignments can go wrong if the client does not engage deeply with the project or assignment. A professional adviser does not work ‘for’ the client, but more often ‘with’, the idea being that knowledge will be transferred to the client. Where the appropriate level of engagement by the client is missing, and if this raises risks for the project or assignment, the PSO will notify the client.

At best, a PSO’s professional staff can play the role of energetic, persuasive advisers, but final responsibility for the success of a project or assignment will depend on the client.

Communication

It is essential that expectations of the project and assignment are synchronised not only between the PSO’s project team and the client’s project team, but in depth in the client’s organisation, especially when end-users’ opinions, reactions and acceptance are required.

It is particularly essential that in the case of training the client clarifies for all trainees the objectives of the project, the limits to its scope and the role of the PSO in the process of the project or assignment.

Communication should be in unambiguous written form whenever possible.

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More next week.

Do you dare?

Do you dare to cross the road when the little man is red?

redman

In some countries it’s illegal (here in the Czech Republic, for example), but in all the time I’ve lived here I haven’t once been stopped by a policeman, nor yet run over by a bus. And I’m perfectly happy to endure the tut-tutting of citizens more senior than I am who have more patience or think that the world order iis threatened by petty disobedience.

Someone once told me that she always walks a prospective job candidate to the lift, just to see how fast the candidate moves. Fast is good, dawdling is not.

I like people who move fast and take small risks. And I like people who don’t feel they must slavishly obey the pettier laws that plague us.You can have too much patience.

Other rules I disobey (I can’t think of any more laws):

  • The customer is always right
  • Check-in two hours before the flight
  • Wear a suit at the opera
  • Drink white wine with fish
  • Do what the tour guide says
  • Don’t talk about politics or religion
  • Avoid double cream