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Archive for August, 2009

The 6 Types of Attendees at a Conference Exhibition Hall

After spending 4 days helping out manning our booth at the Agile2009 conference in Chicago, I came to the conclusion that there are 6 types of visitors to the exhibition hall where various companies have a booth showcasing their products and services. Below is my summary of the various types. It is obvioulsy impossible to tell in which category an individual falls in unless you spend time talking them. The list below should help you qualify your potential leads.

  • The Genuinly Interested: Having a booth at such events represents an important expense for many organizations and most people expect (at least hope) to cover their expenses by getting people to purchase their products or services. The Genuinly Interested attendee is exactly the type of individual companies target when they choose to rent a booth. The Genuinely Interested attendee demonstrates a positive reaction to your presentation, typically followed by one or more questions about the product. If an individual spends more than 10 minutes in your booth talking to you about your product, then requests further information and even offers to give you their business card – see our thoughts in opt-in marketing – you have a good potential. Needless to say, although this never guarantees a quick or even a direct sale, it is a great opportunity to educate your visitors who may potentially become a spokesperson for your product which would eventually lead to sales generation.
  • The Skeptical: The initial behavior of the Skeptical is similar to that of the Genuinly Interested individual with the exception that the Skeptical is a little more difficult to handle as he seems more interested in pointing out the weaknesses of your product than he is in purchasing it. Although you may not enjoy the experience and you may wish the Skeptical to go away, that would be a mistake as the Skeptical is actually providing you useful market information. Let’s face it, people don’t have time to waste so when someone stops by your booth and actually spends time prodiving feedback, you should take advantage. As with the Genuinly Interested who may not purchase right there, the Skeptical will most probably talk about your product and the way you handle his feedback will likely have an impact down the line on your sales.
  • The Toy Collector: These individual come in various shapes and forms. The more benign Toy Collectors simply walk to your booth and ask an attendee for the goodies – “I would like a t-shirt please”, “Can I take a mug?” – and then walk directly to the next booth with the same request. The trickier ones are those who stay to listen to your elevator pitch, node, might ask a question or two and then wait for or simply ask for the goods. It is only at the last minute you realize your visitor was simply interested in getting promotional toys. Once again, this behavior might be disappointing but you are also missing an important opportunity here. The main purpose for promotional items is to give visibility to you product or service and anyone who walks aways with an item that displays your company name, your company logo, and your web site should be welcomed at your booth.
  • The Pesty Competitor: After you have been in your booth for a while, you start to see competitors come by and ask questions about your product or service and although you may wish to keep your competitive advantage hidden from your competitors, information exchange is a normal part of doing business – shame on you if you aren’t doing it. The Pesty Competitor is someone who takes so much of your time and attention that you are no longer able to talk to Genuinly Interested attendees. You could think, once again that this is a bad thing. Quite the contrary. You certainly don’t want competitors to take all of your time, but otherwise this is an amazing opportunities to discuss cooperation and potential partnership – assuming you are not competing for the exact same market segment.
  • The Friend Seeker: This individual comes to your booth with no interest in your product. The Friend Seeker starts with simple questions and then moves on to more personal questions – “Where do you live?”, “Do you have any kids?”, “What are you doing after duty?”. Based on my experience, these individuals are rare and explaining to them you need to be working typically takes care of the visitor without any negative consequence unless, of course, you are also looking for friends to share dinner with.
  • The Zombies: Finally, the Zombies are individuals who may walk through the exhibit hall at a fast pace while avoiding eye contact or simply do not even come near the exhibit hall. Needless to say, unless they already own your product,  they are unlikely to become customers in the short term.

Meeting so many people is always interesting and pleasant and making sure we deliver the most compelling messages to capture our visitors’ interest while remaining transparent is critical to stay true to our values and commitment toward the customer experience.

As a final note, exchanging stories and experience with so many people during the conference has proven to be interesting, informative, and thought-provoking. Once in a while, we need to remind ourselves that such events are great opportunities to bring back great ideas then it’s up to our organization to decide how we will deal with these ideas.

Urban Turtle Booth at Agile 2009

Urban Turtle Booth at Agile 2009

Don’t Sell Buzzwords to Business Leaders, Learn How to Describe Real Value

During a break from the exhibit hall, I had the opportunity to  attend the presentation given by Rich Sheridan, CEO of Menlo Innovations called “Don’t Sell Buzzwords to Business Leaders, Learn How to Describe Real Value“.

Although I was disappointed at first because the presentation actually didn’t have anything to do with “Buzzwords” and “Business Leaders”, I quickly changed my impression once Richard started to describe his company’s culture and the way he leads his organization. As I already mentioned, our organization operates very differently from most organizations and in an attempt to adapt the right organizational structure I’m reading as many books, articles and blogs on this topic – including Maverick: The Success Story Behind the World’s Most Unusual Workplace (thanks to Andrew Meyer for the reference).

You can understand my interest once Richard talked about making similar organizational choices as we did: complete transparency, no formal hierarchy, accountability towards your team instead of a boss, well developed recruitment process, equitable compensation, open work environment, etc.

Menlo Innovations has published a book that demonstrates how their way of operating does deliver the real value as expected by their customers. I have ordered the book since it wasn’t available on site and I will certainly provide my assessment of it once I receive it.

Needless to say, the presentation captured the interest of most of the people in the room and many were hoping to have lunch with Richard after the presentation to better understand his unusual work environment. Unfortunately for me, my break was over and I had to get back to the booth.

I will obviously continue my research on this topic.

Why aren’t you collecting email addresses?

Many of the exhibitors at the Agile2009 conference in Chicago are using the traditional scanner that lets them scan the attendees’ badge (access card). One of the nearby exhibitor (who meant well) approached us asking “Why aren’t you collecting email addresses?“. He couldn’t understand why we weren’t using such a device to obtain the email addresses of hundreds of attendees.

If you are not familiar with the badge scanning concept, here’s how it works. In exchange for letting an exhibitor scan your badge, they will typically offer you to participate in a draw to win an iPod, a Wii, or any other potentially appealing gizmo’s. So for the cost of the reward (usually less than $300) they obtain a large number of valid email addresses that they can later use to send relevant (?) documentation, promotional offering, information about upcoming events, etc.

While this strategy may sound appealing, the fact that we don’t use such scanning devices could appear counter-intuitive. The reason we refuse to scan badges is that we do not believe in building a “spam-list” – let’s call a spade, a spade! We do not believe that the names of people who simply agreed to participate in a draw to win something should be used for other purposes. These people weren’t specifically asked to opt-in an e-marketing campaign and since we truly live our values to treat our customers (even the potential ones) with respect, we do not collect email addresses unless the individual explicitly agreed to be contacted by our organization in the future and we do this with a simple question. “Would you agree to give us your business card so we can send you information about our products in the near future?“.

In our opinion, people who knowingly agreed to provide personal information are more likely to pay attention to the incoming emails they would receive from our organization.

Call it counter-intuitive if you wish, we call this “the customer experience“.

10 Reasons to Doubt Your Agile Transition Has Been Successful

  1. Every time product requirements change, you hear a tree fall in the forest in order to support the printing of a new multi-page gantt chart;
  2. The project managers comes into the office early in the morning so he can carefully prepare the specific tasks to assign to each team member;
  3. Although sitting within 20 feet of each other, your team members proudly sit in closed offices and only communicate via email;
  4. Your business analyst is pleased to show you that she managed to fit each user story on 42 50 index cards;
  5. The last time a business representative attended your requirement gathering meeting, she was using a Palm Pilot;
  6. As per the project plan, the Champagne has been opened to celebrate the launch of the project while half the development team is busy trying to do code integration;
  7. While no team members attended, the management team is pleased with the content of the discussions that took place during the end of release post-mortem (retrospection);
  8. The architects have locked themselves up for 6 to 8 weeks in order to properly prepare for the upcoming project;
  9. The business representative is waiting for her administrative assistant to arrive in order to take notes from the daily stand up meeting;
  10. A project control officer has been assigned to the project to ensure each steps have been properly documented and successfully executed.

Do you have other reasons to doubt?

Monthly Strategic Meeting

As a follow up to my post about our Strategic Planning Meetings and our strategic planning process, this blog post describes the Monthly Strategic Meetings.


Every month, the strategic meeting is an opportunity to monitor and track the achievement of our objectives. It is an opportunity to assess what has been accomplished, to revise our goals and to adapt them based on external and internal changes. In short, this is an opportunity to inspect and adapt. It is also a time to consider new opportunities that may arise.

Objectives

Making decisions on proposals made to the strategic committee and support the people responsible for the various goals by helping the remove the obstacles they encounter.

During the meeting, presenters should explain what they need to achieve their objectives and propose a plan of action that can be accepted (or rejected) by the strategic committee members. The strategic meeting is not intended to present the work completed to date – since it is the responsibility of leaders to ensure that their tasks are completed – but have a plan of action that allows the successful achievement of the objectives.

Frequency

The meeting is held every month (the last Friday of the month).

Attendance

Who can be present at the monthly strategic meetings?

All employees interested and available can attend the meeting as “chickens“.

Participation

Who should be present at the monthly strategic meetings?

Each blue bubble (see diagram below) must have at least one representative present at the meeting. In addition, at least 2 of the following 3 people must be present: President, General Manager, Process Owner.

Organizational Structure

Strategic Committee

Voting

Who has the right to vote for decision-making?

All members of the strategic committee present at the meeting are entitled to vote.

Following the vote, what rule should be used to make a decision?

The decision-making will be the super-majority (2 / 3 of the votes). For a proposal to be accepted, the number of votes in favor of the proposal must be greater than or equal to twice the number of votes opposing the proposal.

The Hot Chili Pepper Approach to Generating New Ideas

It struck me today that the way organizations select and promote ideas and projects basically fall into 2 different categories.

Comparison to Hot Chili Peppers

To demonstrate my point, I will compare the 2 approaches organizations used to find and select their next big blockbuster initiatives to the way my father and my father-in-law use to grow hot chili peppers. Before I start, I need to explain that my father-in-law was born and raised in Southern Italy where they traditionally grow and assemble these hot chili peppers as presented in the picture below.

Hot Chili Peppers

Hot Chili Peppers

Normand’s Approach – My Father

The first approach used by organizations to find their next big blockbuster initiative is to let people generate many quality ideas in the course of their activities. There are typically many ways to capture these ideas and some organizations even allow employees to experiment and put forward a prototype of their idea.

This is similar to my father’s approach of putting many (many) seeds in a flower pot to ensure that he will get at least some plants as a results.

Planting as many seeds as possible in order to ensure some results

Planting as many seeds as possible in order to ensure some results

Domenico’s Approach – My Father-in-Law

By comparison, other organizations carefully analyze the various proposals and hand-pick a few high potential ideas behind which they will heavily invest time and resources in order to reach full market potential.

Limiting the number of seeds and investing energy in growing them

Limiting the number of seeds and investing energy in growing them

This is similar to my father-in-law’s approach of carefully picking and drying seeds from the previous year’s crop to ensure that the selected seeds came from a high yielding plant. He then plants a few seeds and will spend countless hours nurturing them throughout summer to ensure he will get the best peppers he can.

Conclusion

I came to realize that both methods are valid. The choice depends on what market the organization operates in and its ability to properly select the right ideas upfront. I suspect most organizations start with the first approach and as they build their expertise, the eventually move on to the second approach.

Weekly Tactical Meetings

As a follow up to my posts about our Strategic Planning Meetings, our Monthly Strategic Meeting, and our strategic planning process, this blog post describes the Weekly Tactical Meetings.


Every week, the tactical meeting is used to plan the goals for the week and choose our priorities based on our current capabilities.

Objectives

  • Establish a quick plan for the week to come
  • Consider possible options for improvement and set priorities based on our ability to achieve them
  • Prioritize tasks and assign resources to support the activities.

The weekly tactical meeting is modeled after the daily stand up meeting used in Scrum with a key distinction. The group is much less interested in knowing what has been done but prefers to focus on what needs to be done within the next 5 business days to complete an objective. The meeting rarely lasts more than 30 minutes.

Interesting blog posts (August 19/2009)

The common theme for these blog posts – leadership and people management.

John Baldoni explains How to Manage Your High-Performing Team.

Bret L. Simmons talks about Employee Engagement.

Sylvia Ann Hewlett uses Apple as an example in Inspire Employees at the Grass-Roots Level.

An Agile Organization is an Hyperlinked Organization

When I got to chapter 5 (The Hyperlinked Organization) of  The Cluetrain Manifesto: The End of Business as Usual, I was amazed to see how many parallels there are between what the author David Weinberger talks about and Agile Organizations.

Traditional organizations (i.e. old-style management) use a Top-Down approach to communicate the strategy and transmit the orders. Employees are expected to execute on the orders and each level of the hierarchy is responsible to monitor the level below and take actions to correct any deviance from the plan. By comparison, any organization that operates like the web – via links and without hierarchy – greatly improves communication and performance.

The growth of the internet has been qualified as the largest and most complex human developed system. Organizational structures are no where near as complex. So why is it so difficult to break away from the command-and-control structure still used on most organizations?

Strategic Planning Meetings

As a follow up to my earlier post about our strategic planning process, this blog post describes the Strategic Planning Meeting.


Every 6 months, the strategic planning team meets for our strategic planning meeting with the objective of assessing our progress towards achieving our vision and developing a strategic plan for the upcoming 6 months. As I already mentioned, strategic planning is an iterative process and as such, our strategic plan defines the objectives for the organization but does not carve them in stone.

The strategic plan is a realistic and pragmatic wish list of objectives and activities that we will strive to successfully complete – the plan is not a definitive set of end goals. For us, the plan is a road map to achieving the vision. It is more important to get closer to the vision than it is to stick to the plan or achieve the objectives as they were originally defined.

Objectives

Define and prioritize our strategic goals for the upcoming 6 months and assess our progress toward achieving the corporate vision.

Strategic planning

The strategic planning meeting sets the direction for the next 6 months. The goal is to make progress in achieving our vision and strategic goals in order to get us closer to the vision.

During the meeting, we establish the strategic action plan, which contains several targets for improvement in our service offerings, in our commercial software, and in our internal processes. After the meeting, the project office is responsible for the management of the strategic plan.

Each of the areas of expertise is responsible for monitoring their goals and in particular, they must ensure that their objectives are achieved or adapted to reflect the market conditions.

The objectives are documented in the backlog of the organization. Over time, the items documented in the backlog are broken down into activities and sub-tasks and are monitored through the monthly strategic meetings and the weekly tactical meetings.

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