Posted by: Doug Geiger | 2009/12/18

Smart questions: How to hire a passionate consultant

I recently read a great article about passion. In it the author says,

Tech Passion. For a period of years, I ran an IT business and had to hire network engineers and PC techs. One of the most telling questions I asked job applicants was, “What kind of computer setup do you have at home?” I tended to hire the ones whose faces lit up as they described complex networks they had built with salvaged hardware and beta-version software. I knew they didn’t get into the IT field after seeing an ad promising high salaries – they reinstalled operating systems for fun. Invariably, these passionate techies were the most up-to-date knowledge-wise and the quickest problem-solvers.

From a neuromarketing standpoint, customers can sense the passion of your people, even if they don’t process it consciously. The body language, the speech patterns, and other cues will give your customers the confidence that the person they are dealing with truly believes in your product.

So, when you are looking at resumes, get beyond the facts, and look for passion!

Using myself as a one-man case study, I thought of questions one could ask to suss out passionate consultants or business analysts. Pro-tip: even the really motivated analysts probably won’t gush–so it will take some smart questions. I hope my list helps you determine if your prospect has passion so that you can hire the perfect consultant!

  1. Who are your teachers, right now?
  2. What new words or concepts have you learned about recently?
  3. When do you most often find yourself in the zone? (e.g. time of day, locations, etc.)
  4. What work are you most proud of?
  5. How have you applied your business expertise to your own life?
  6. Who have you taught or mentored, whether formally or informally?
  7. Finish this sentence: “In the business world, I just wish people would…”

Ideally, your other questions and research have determined the candidates skills and knowledge. These questions are chiefly designed to elicit enthusiasm for their craft, if any exists. Be sure to pay attention to body language, engagement and any uptick in excitement when the prospect answers the questions.

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Posted by: Doug Geiger | 2009/11/22

After action analysis: lost iPhone

One of the things that separates the business analyst mindset from a lot of other folks is how committed we are to understanding exactly how something works, exactly why something doesn’t work, and how to make things work better. I don’t mean that business analysts are smarter or harder working than anyone else , just that we really ask a lot more “whys?” than most others. No where is this more obvious than after something goes wrong. Human nature is to move past mistakes as quickly as possible. Business analyst nature, on the other hand, is to find the nearest whiteboard and start listing causes and solutions and controls. We really try to make the most of opportunities to pick apart projects, especially if they bombed. The Project Management Institute goes so far as to include a period of reflecting on one’s project as a formal part of closing out a project, in their guidelines. This process is called an After Action Analysis (or After Action Review or even “Postmortem” review).

I had an opportunity to apply this principle to my own life recently. Last Saturday my wife and I went to breakfast at a diner by our house. From there we ran a few errands and returned home. As we pulled up to the house I reached for my phone. It was not in my pocket, plugged into the car-charger or in the center console. My wife attempted to call my phone several times to no avail. We called the diner and they confirmed my worst fear: the phone had not been turned in. I now faced the prospect–not only of needing to purchase a replacement device–but also of having to figure out which accounts my iPhone allowed access, so that I could prevent privacy intrusions. Off the top of my head I thought of my Gmail account, Evernote account, Facebook account and personal calendar. The idea of strangers poking around and accessing this information did not warm my heart.  In fairness, I am usually pretty conscientious about security. I do use strong passwords for these account, each different from the next; however, and like with any system, the human is always the weakest link. I thought of many contingencies but I had foolishly never considered my own negligence. Because I had gone over 1,000 days without losing my phone I pretended it couldn’t happen to me. Happily, not long after we returned home I found my phone by my bed, left there from the night before. Apparently, in an act as unusual as me losing my phone, I had not even checked my email the entire 2 hours we were on out and about.

I took a few minutes and thought through what went wrong. Here are my three big mistakes:

  1. Failure to plan: I had no lock on the phone that prevented someone from picking up my lost phone and having full access to all of my applications
  2. Failure to follow procedures: I had not followed my pat-check before leaving the house
  3. Failure to perform due diligence: I didn’t immediately know which services had been compromised

It’s just a misplaced phone. Right? Some might feel that my analysis was an over-reaction but I don’t think so. To quote Anonymous, “You can’t improve what you don’t measure.” As a business analyst, I need to stay sharp and I try to learn from every situation I can. While the experience was very frustrating; it gave me great insight into the systems I have created to run my personal life. I got lucky this time–but I’d rather be smart. The one thing I have learned over the years is this: if you want better results; ask better questions.

Posted by: Doug Geiger | 2009/09/26

The best computer in the world

OldPeopleComputer

Last night I had a conversation I have had a thousand times. It is some variation of, “what is the best computer to buy?” or “how much should I pay for a computer?”

Almost everyone gets this wrong:

  • Computer enthusiast rattle off lists and numbers and giga-whatsits
  • Mac people gush over new and fancy Macs
  • PC people gush over new and fancy PCs
  • Hipsters launch into market trends and theory about 2.0 cloud-based hyphen-ated yada-yada
  • Grumpy Luddites tell you to buy a Moleskine instead
  • And sales people tell you to buy whatever–as long as you buy the extended warranty

Meanwhile, the wise and benevolent business analyst sagely asks you, “what would you like to be able to do with a new computer?”Remember, computers can only make files. However, thoughtful solutions to clearly defined problems make life better. Never settle for just a computer.

Posted by: Doug Geiger | 2009/07/22

A business analyst’s resume

resume cartoon

(image from KenNash.com)

Why do you have a resume?

As a business analyst (BA), whenever I submit a resume to an employer, I expect that it will be held to a higher standard than other positions within that same company because the job of a BA is to understand the needs of a user and provide clearly written analysis that can be used to make decisions and solve problems. To be blunt, my resume needs to be the obvious solution my prospective employer’s problem of, “who do we hire next?” My approach isn’t simply the result of a logical exercise; it is also informed by years of hiring and hours of interviews. I am sharing my approach for an obvious reason and a clever reason. The obvious reason: on the off-chance that this will help job-seeking friends determine if their resume does its job as well as they do theirs. Can you guess the clever reason?

The first step in any project is to define the problem clearly. This is referred to as the “scope.” In most projects, somewhere along the way (hopefully early on) someone will ask, “what are we trying to do here?” The funny thing about defining the scope is that everyone in the room think it is an unnecessary step because to each of them the goal is so obvious. (In reality each person’s understanding of the goal of the project is usually different enough to cause a considerable amount of aggravation down the road.) Think of your resume as a mini project. My objective in producing a resume is two-fold:

  1. Get an interview
  2. Set the right tone for that interview

One could argue that those are one big goal and you would be right; however, for my purposes I like thinking of them separately because I see the goals as practical versus creative or left-brain versus right-brain. Note that one of my goals is not to “get the job” or “list everything good about me.” The entire scope for my resume is limited to getting to the next step–the interview.

Read More…

Posted by: Doug Geiger | 2009/07/09

How’s your mulch? (pt. 2)

sm-crabgrass-074_000

Previously, I drew a parallel between our ability to thrive in the future by preparing our minds and the mulch that a gardener prepares for new crops. In both cases intentionality is required to prepare for future growth. Part one talked about what needed to be added for good, rich mulch; namely a good supply of past experiences and fresh supply of new insights and education. Without the right blend of these ingredients great opportunities will have a difficult time establishing strong roots. Today I will cover what not to include in your mental/emotional mulch pile.

In the article I cited last week the author recommended avoiding “animal waste, meats, oils, dairy, diseased plants, weeds that have gone to seed, or plants treated with pesticides or herbicides.” I won’t over extend the metaphor by assigning a corollary to each of the above items to avoid; neither will I claim that this list applies to everyone, but here is what I try to keep out of my mulch pile:

  1. Stale competency: The biggest temptation is to “stick with what you know.” It feels good to reign supreme over one’s own little corner of the world. I love to learn, but I hate to feel incompetent. So, for me there is a push/pull when it comes to new ideas and skills. I have learned to push through the initial period of ignorance and dive in.
  2. Time-sinks: There is an opportunity cost to every click, minute and rabbit trail. Like weeds, we all have activities that will grow on our lives just about anywhere we are not diligent.
  3. Vague frustrations: I avoid news that is bad that I can do nothing about. This is not an easy task these days. I have to be selective in my news intake if I am to maintain the frame of mind I desire. I am not suggesting crawling in a hole, but I think some folks obsession with (bad) news borders on masochism, given how little we can do about what we are hearing. Maybe you are built differently, but I need to limit my intake.
  4. Plastic optimism: Optimism and positivity are good; however, they are no substitute for achievement and discipline. Sometimes, it is good to feel unsettled if it causes us to move forward or make tough decisions. I make it a point to surround myself with positive and productive realists. Positive affirmations are like calories–look at how they energize those who are moving and fatten those who are not.

What do you do to stay ready for future growth?

Posted by: Doug Geiger | 2009/06/28

Sidewalks come second

A quick mobile post.

On my way into church this morning I noticed this sidewalk and dirt patch (at bottom of post) and it reminded me of a principle of modern communication that I learned the hard way. The principle is this: build your sidewalks where people walk not where they are pretty.

If you work with people that prefer reading on dead trees; print it out for them. Some people prefer phone calls and others prefer face-to-face. There are tons of ways to communicate with people and the right way is not the way you prefer it is the way that gets the job done. Whenever I work with a new client, project manager or boss I quickly learn how they want to hear from me.

Years ago I volunteered my time to help start a church. Most of my work was strategic and logistical. One of the mistakes I made was assuming that we were all hip and cool and so I pushed hard to go all digital and implemented a bunch of online collaborative solutions. The adoption rate was poor and I was confused. I built a path that worked for ME, a path that was elegant and the envy of those who shared my values and frankly it was a great path; unfortunately, that path didn’t work well for those for whom it was built and so it went unused.

Sidewalks may look pretty on a blueprint in a fan pattern with cute little jaunts and sweeping curves but people will always walk on the path they prefer–it is best to go ahead and pave there.

Posted by: Doug Geiger | 2009/06/25

How’s your mulch? (pt.1)

A handful of mulch

Why mulch?

The economy is not going well, but it is also not going away. There are opportunities floating around us like seeds in the wind waiting for a place to germinate and grow. These opportunities will pass over the dry ground of complacency and the shallow soil of laziness and will seek out good, rich soil. Our soil is simply what we do well. How do ensure our soil is ready? How do we amend our soil if it lacks some key nutrient? We apply mulch. The part of our minds that is intentional and curious is like a mulch pile–and like any good mulch pile–it takes a while to get going once started. In the gardening world mulching is easy: you combine two parts old brown leaves with one part fresh clippings.  If we consider our experience as brown leaves and studying new subjects as green clippings; then that isn’t a bad ratio to aim at. Here is what my mulch pile looks like right now:

My brown leaves (experience):

  1. Project Management
  2. People Management
  3. Technical Writing
  4. Business Analysis
  5. Non-Profit and Higher Education
  6. Sales and Marketing

My green clippings (new areas of learning):

  1. Social Media
  2. Corporate Finance Principles
  3. Financial Analysis
  4. Photo Editing
  5. Cooking

Keep it active:

The next trick to a good mulch pile is turning it to ensure everything mixes together well. I do this by spending time with good people like my photographer buddy Bobby Alcott and along with having good time I manage to learn a thing or two. I stay active on twitter and talk with lots of marketing folks to learn how they think. This keeps me sharp. For the financial parts of the green clippings, I look to books, online research and business owners that I know well to answer my questions. The fellowship of good people, coupled with writing on this site, keeps my mulch in good supply and my soil rich and ready for new growth.

How’s your mulch?

  • Are you aware of all your brown leaves? (Ideas: Update your CV or resume every three months. Start a professional blog. Join LinkedIn.)
  • Have you planned to add any green clippings?  (Ideas: Subscribe to RSS feeds from professional sites in your field (or prospective field). Get a certification. Become more proficient with computers and the internet)
  • Are you ready for (as opposed to simply wishing for) new growth?
Posted by: Doug Geiger | 2009/06/16

The smartest person at the table

If you truly want to serve your team and simultaneously be the smartest person at the table ask this question: “If you we wave a magic wand and make this go perfectly; what exactly would success look like in this situation?” Then follow up with, “how will we know we have hit that mark?” and “how can we measure these outcomes?”

When I was growing up I would argue for the sake of arguing. Like my new puppy Dagny, who shreds stuffed animals to refine her instincts; I cut my teeth on critical topics like whether NASCAR was a “real” sport and which Steven Segal movie marked the turning point from awesome to awful, in order to refine my (analytical) instincts. Early in my career I was thrilled to even be invited to important meetings and so my goals were two-fold: 1. Not look stupid and 2. Be clever.

Unfortunately, I have noticed that ethos to be the default in nearly every work group I have come across. Why? Because it takes work and humility to drop what is petty and become excellent and productive. In fact, it feels so good to jockey for attention, approval or power that many people choose this route their whole career and miss out on what it feels like to be part of a high-trust and high-production team.

It took learning humility, hundreds of frustrating meetings and some valuable coaching; but my values have gradually shifted to: 1. Figuring out exactly what the goal is in the present situation, 2. determining how I can I help get us there.

  • Usually, this means toning down or eliminating sarcasm
  • Sometimes, this means choosing not to distract us with a clever insight or anecdote
  • Sometimes, this means not talking
  • Sometimes, this means taking the lead
  • Often, this means looking at the situation through a series of lenses (not just mine!) to be sure we hit the mark

Try it: At your next meeting note how long the meeting goes without a clear set of objectives. Then ask the questions I mentioned above. I’m fairly certain you will find the meeting to be more useful from that point onward. You are now the smartest (and kindest!) person at the table; even though it may have cost you being the cleverest.

Posted by: Doug Geiger | 2009/06/02

Are you an information craftsman, or a tinkerer?

Craftsmen and tinkerers

There are craftsmen and there are tinkerers. Tinkerers enjoy a hobby for its own sake; they have a working knowledge, and a partial set of tools and experience. A craftsman on the other hand not only knows what works; they know why and how it works, and have developed a gut-feel informed by thousands of hours of experimentation. A craftsman is imbued with the philosophy and history of his trade. To him, his work is beautiful; whether architect, database administrator, web developer, artist or business analyst. The types of jobs available are changing; however, the new economy (whatever that means) will still require craftsmen.

In today’s milieu of (mostly) blue-collar lay-offs, creativity and knowledge management are the new union cards. We used to be an agrarian society; now fewer people work the fields to produce our food. We used to be a country of manufacturers; yesterday, General Motors filed for bankruptcy. The shifting economy hurts many of us personally; particularly in Detroit. For the past several months–every other week a friend of mine is laid off. Contrary to the way it feels sometimes, our economy is not dying, but many of her staple job types are.

Which jobs will remain or be in higher demand? Jobs in which creativity, communication and information are both the main tool and product. The tools of our fathers and grandfathers were tractors, axes, hammers and welders; and they took great care of them, since they were their livelihood. Like them, we must take care of the tools that take care of us. In our time, the way we manage our creative energy, our relationships with others and our information, separate the tinkerers from the information craftsman.

Read More…

Posted by: Doug Geiger | 2009/05/28

Finding Dagny

Finding Dagny

Google lists 405,000,000 indexed pages for “dog.” For perspective, there are an estimated 74 Million dogs in the U.S. Tomorrow my wife and I are going to pick up our dog from a breeder in Ohio, two hours South of us. Our puppy, Dagny is a medium-sized, hypo-allergenic, bright and friendly female Labradoodle, who lives within a couple hours of Detroit and is within our budget; furthermore, she is not a belly dragger or a shedder. We had a very specific type of dog in mind and to find her, my wife spent hours combing through scores of websites to identify the perfect match. It took 0.21 seconds to find more information about dogs than a man could ever read. It took half a dozen hours to find http://littlelfarm.com/goldendoodles.htm and ultimately, Dagny herself.

The most valuable resource on the planet

What is the cheapest resource on the planet? It isn’t air or water. It is information–already vast and yet still proliferating at an exponential rate. What, on the other hand, is the scarcest and most valuable resource? The right information. Spelled out, “right information” is that information needed right now to solve problems and promote success. 

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