Creative Child’s Game Simplifies Value Decisions

How to Assign Value to Disparate Projects for Equal Consideration

Have you ever wanted to know which project to start next? Did you get frustrated comparing unrelated activities in an attempt to determine which provided the greatest value? The solution is as simple as a child’s game.

No, I’m not talking about a Six Sigma Pugh Concept Matrix to determine which potential alternative solution can more quickly and easily be engineered into a viable product for just-in-time manufacturing.

I’m talking about a simple game that boutique tech businesses use to prioritize projects by overall value.

It’s called a weighted decision matrix and its fun to use.

Picture a simple table with the name of the projects listed down the far left column. Across the top of each column is the criteria that you’ll use to measure a projects overall value. Where each project and column intersects are the letters H, M, and L. The far right column holds the total of the criteria scores for each project.

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STEP ONE:

Name each project in the first column. Name the criteria being considered at the top of each column.

The H M and L represent the importance level of the criteria for the project—giving it a high, medium or low level of importance for each particular criterion. Circle the level of importance that each project holds based on the given criteria.

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STEP TWO:

Give a value to each H, M and L. With less complex decisions I use the following values: H=4, M=2, and L=1. If the decision is more complex I use: H=9, M=3, and L=1. Then total the score by adding the values from each cell. The decision is obvious—I need to write a blog on Decision Matrix (see below table).

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But many times life is not so simple because some criteria are more important than others, which requires some form of weighting.

STEP THREE:

When criteria are not equal, a numeric value must be attached that will work as a multiplier. I use a 5-point scale to make sure each criteria receives its due credit or strength in the formula. However, when sorting through a large number of projects, I switch to a 10-point scale in order to pick up on the value of subtle nuances for each criterion.

In the below table I’ve given each criteria a numerical value. In the first cell the M was circled and is valued as a 2. I then multiply it with the weighted criterion value of 4 and get a new total cell value of 8. Each cell is added together for a total score of 40.

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The weighting has clarified what’s more important and shifted the score to a tie. In this case I would’ve been better off using the larger spread of values: H=9, M=3, and L=1 as in the below table. However, the scoring is so close that the decision of what blog to write had an original score of 10, shifted to a tie, followed by coming in second place (see below table).

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Here’s where the game gets tricky. You have to be totally honest with yourself whenever assigning values to what’s important. Deciding between H, M, L is pretty easy, but the choice is more difficult with a 5-point criteria value—even more tricky with a 10-point value.

In the table below I changed the weighted amount for the third criterion from 3 to 4. Why? Well, since most of my readers run families, small businesses and departments, I thought the category should hold a higher level of importance.

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Now look at what happened to the scores. The numbers made the decision very clear, but only because I was being truthful about the third column’s actual value of importance.

WARNING: As in all games that use numbers, a person can cheat to make things read anyway they want, which defeats the purpose of playing.

STEP 1A:

It’s important to use only the criteria that are truly important to a project. Extra criteria that’s not seriously weighted only complicates your decision making process.

If you’re an artist, consider some of these criteria:

• Passion Zone
• Stretch Comfort Levels
• Gain Knowledge
• Generate Money
• Advance Career
• Network Expansion
• Develop Skills
• Touch Lives
• Build Relationships
• Fun & Games

The above factors can all impact a decision for an artist deciding whether or not he or she is interested in signing on to a film project. Sometimes it’s worth doing if it expands your network or you can learn something significant from the experience. Other times making money is the number one weighted factor.

In business, other criteria might be considered like:

• Meets Objectives
• Forwards Career
• Meets Boss’ Bonus Requirements
• Generates Commission
• Creates Double Digit Growth

The above list can go on and on, but the idea is sound. Figuring out what criteria is important for the projects being considered helps change the decision from an aggravating dilemma to a child’s game that’s easy to solve with a quick hand written table or spreadsheet.

Members of different departments that make up a special team can also play this game. Each can add a few criteria to the table to make sure their area of expertise is well considered by the decision maker.

The biggest decision I faced was sorting through 11 projects with 32 criteria. Thankfully it was on an automated spreadsheet and the answers were quick and sound.

Let me know what other games or tools you use to decide which project should be next.

© 2017 by CJ Powers

Managing Daunting Projects

startup-photosLast Saturday I interacted with several generations at a friend’s 95th birthday. Typically during events of that nature I get to learn a lot about people and observe things that get tucked away in my brain for future use. But this time a person brought up my latest novel (Steele Blue) and asked, “How were you able to write an entire novel? Isn’t it such a daunting task?”

I answered, “It’s not all that difficult if you write it 500 words at a time.”

Now, I’m aware that my answer was a bit simplistic when you consider story structure, character development, and the other intangible elements that must be carefully crafted into a novel. But the person’s face suggested a concern about how to overcome very large and overwhelming projects.

Last week I happened to be consulting with a CEO of a marketing communications firm that specializes in elite professional speakers. The question raised to me was very similar and went something like this, “How do you manage the myriad of elements it takes to make a movie?”

Again my answer was simple, just like you’d give an answer to the question, “How do you eat an elephant?” One bite at a time.

There are three steps I take to break down the overwhelming into manageable bites:

STEP ONE: Assess the project scope.

The 50,000-foot view is a great starting point to understand the maximum effort required for a project. However, a 10,000-foot view makes for better decision making because it includes all departments and freelancers that will have their hands in the mix.

Before I break down a movie script to determine budget and schedules, I must first understand the “why’s” of the project and who will be heading up the departments necessary to capture and translate the vision into a reality. This insight immediately tells me what size ballpark we’ll be playing in and the rough estimate of the cost to produce the picture.

As a director, I’ve found that Anthony DeRosa, who’s worked on numerous Nickelodeon and Disney projects, is one of my favorite producers to work with. The reason is because he and I have a shorthand of quickly determining if a script is a $3MM, $12MM, or $40MM project. It allows us to quickly assess what level of actors will be tapped for the show and what team might be best to spitball the visual effects budget.

The bottom line is that only speaking at the level of vision and goals is not sufficient for breaking down daunting tasks. It must be broken down for each department head to fill in the blanks of what he or she knows is needed to accomplish the task.

In the case of an author or consultant, the work needs to be looked at from the standpoint of available time slots. No consultant can work on more than four projects in a given day because it takes time to ramp up and review the previous day’s work, plus have enough time to do something significant to move the project forward. Most experienced executives will try to limit their productivity to no more than two projects on any given day so they have enough time to meet quality standards.

STEP TWO: Look for natural breaks.

When you look at a work of art you see the whole that makes an impression. But when you study it, you see all the segments that make up the whole. In a story there is always (or at least should be) a beginning, middle and end. In film you have the three-act structure.

In nature, you see patterns of fractal art. Take a closer look at a tree. Its trunk branches out into large branches. Each large branch then, in the same artistic fashion, extends out with more branches. This pattern continues until you have a full balanced tree of branches. Next the leaves come in, and the piece of art is complete.

Finding the natural breaks in a project reduces the pressure and allows for the steps to be aligned to a calendar for easy management.

When I was at a large technology company I was tasked to sell $480MM in switching equipment to one customer. After meeting with the CEO, I learned that I needed to get the written and signed consent from certain key vice presidents before the sale could be completed. I then learned from each V.P. that I needed agreement from key directors, who needed buy-ins from senior managers.

It took me two and a half years to collect support from all players. Everyone added great insights to the project, which also altered the configuration to exactly what the company needed. I closed the deal after a long presentation of input to the executive board including the new offer for $750MM.

That meeting was the easiest close I had ever experienced because I had reduced the entire project down to 300 pieces of research, presentations and sign-offs. The CEO was thrilled because he knew the $480MM project didn’t fit, but loved the perfect custom package, and the future profits the new offer provided.

STEP THREE: Develop specific action plans.

Zig Ziglar, arguably the greatest salesman of our time, shared a story about a father giving a party for his newly available daughter. The father hushed the crowd and told the eligible bachelors that the first man to swim the length of the pool without being bitten by the alligators that he stocked in the pool for the night, would receive $100MM and his daughter’s hand in marriage.

A splash was heard at one end of the pool, and after a series of frantic strokes a young man emerged at the other end. The father asked the young man what drove his decision to risk his life: his daughter’s hand in marriage or the $100MM. The pale looking man answered, “Neither. I just want to know who pushed me in.”

Clearly the young man didn’t know what he was doing or why he had “won.” No one is capable of knowing if they achieved a goal unless they first set it in writing and objectively measure the outcome of their activities. Before taking action, people also need to know what’s in it for them, which is the strongest motivator that we hold dear.

A written action plan must include the following: measureable objectives, motivational benefits, self-assigned awards for success, resources needed to accomplish the tasks, and the next steps for the portion of the project during that stage.

With these three steps in place, the daily tasks are reduced to simple steps that are easily accomplished with little emotional concern.

© 2017 by CJ Powers

Recipient of 2017 Torch Award

Photos by: Sean Su @[203867963313063:0]I was thrilled to be a part of the management team that created and implemented an ethical business model, especially since it was acknowledged and rewarded by the Better Business Bureau (BBB). We received Honorable Mention for businesses in the 1-9 employee category at the 2017 Torch Awards for Marketplace Ethics.

The BBB received over a thousand nominations from consumers and businesses in Illinois. The awards banquet was sponsored by numerous companies serving Chicago and Northern Illinois. Present for the award presentations were WGN, ABC, and the WCIU.

Photos by: Sean Su @[203867963313063:0]ABC 7’s Hosea Sanders hosted the event and handed out the awards. Melissa Stockwell, Army war hero, mother and three-time world champion Paratriathlon medalist was the keynote speaker. The event was well attended by 400 plus Illinois business leaders.

I was given three minutes to share highlights from our ethical practices, journey and gratitude for the award. It was the first time I received an award of that magnitude on behalf of a team and I found myself extremely nervous until my foot hit the stage. Once on the platform I quickly came up with a new speech, since Sanders touched on my planned comments as he introduced me.

Photos by: Sean Su @[203867963313063:0]During the selection process I was inundated with 25-30 hours of paperwork. Our final document answering the questions of the third party counsel was just shy of 50 pages including process and event documentation for standards adhered to and lived out.

I was energized by this once in a lifetime experience because everyone in the room was passionate about raising ethical standards in Illinois. Being in a room with like minded executives was encouraging and I hoped each company effectively instills within their employees the need for and benefits of working within ethical standards.

Photos by: Sean Su @[203867963313063:0]

The Mastery Cycle

Slide1I led a master class and several workshops at a conference last week. My goal was to take the students through the mastery cycle without them knowing it. The outcome was eye opening during the debriefing stage of the conference – The time when reality revealed where on the master craftsman scales each person landed.

The mastery cycle has four parts to it: attitude, knowledge, practice, and skill. The attitude step is all about adjusting one’s dreams to a reality check without draining their vision. Increasing their knowledge is the second step that requires a certain amount of entertainment in order to retain the information. The third step is practicing with a coach who can guide and correct each step of the way. The fourth step is the development of a specific skill that can shine during the process.

Once the process concludes, it’s always useful to debrief the participants and find out what they achieved or learned. Everyone gains a new skill (or part of one) or learns how to avoid a disaster going forward. Both are needed for the master craftsman’s utility belt regardless of their occupation.

ATTITUDE ADJUSTMENT
My classes were filled with beginning filmmakers and semi-professional amateurs. Both groups typically have a great aptitude for filmmaking, but greatly lack the skills needed to climb to a higher level of quality. Since its impossible to get to the next level until you first understand what you don’t know, adjusting the attitudes of the participants is critical to their growth.

I opened with an example of a finely crafted short story that an amateur would shoot for less than $10,000 and a professional would shoot for no less than $265,000. By explaining the difference in quality, story, skill levels, etc., I helped many of the students correct their vision and desire more skills.

INCREASED KNOWLEDGE
The next class was about how to develop a story using a simple logline as a blueprint. Loglines are one to two sentences that clearly articulate the overall story. Any variation due to overzealous creativity in the process weakens the story and hinders the film’s success.

The class developed the beats of the story based on the logline and then wrote a script to be shot the next day. Everyone in class got caught trying to take the story down a rabbit hole, but the team maintained focus thanks to the agreed upon logline – a safety net to make sure the chosen topic is adhered to.

PRACTICE WITH COACH
The day of the shoot was guided by the experienced training the inexperienced. We had hoped for a professional team coaching an amateur team, but circumstances didn’t come together as planned. Still, the experienced were able to help and encourage those with less experience. Three scenes were shot and then debriefed the following morning.

We reviewed the dailies and discussed the pros and cons that came from the shoot. And yes, there were more cons, but I prefer to say there were more learning opportunities. As long as the person learns from his or her mistakes, they are another step closer to mastering their craft.

During the shoot the director is in charge. He must hold true to the logline, the script breakdown, his notebook, and all the other tools he has in delivering the final story based on its original intent as expressed in the script. Unfortunately, the director was so busy trying to keep his cast and crew moving that he forgot to refer back to his notes.

The outcome was some really good shots and acting that had nothing to do with the story. During our review, I pointed out as many of the errors that added to the destruction of the story and why each person failed. I also pointed out that with film being a collaborative art form everyone must stay on task, rather than offering up things that don’t move the story forward.

SKILL DEVELOPMENT
Each participant got a taste of a new skill they need to develop. The director learned how to breakdown the beats of the story to make sure they are filmed. The actors learned the importance of becoming the character instead of changing the character to be like them. The writers learned that creatives can make things up all day long, but must only keep what fulfills the logline. And on it went.

The process that led to the beginning development of a new skill can now be cycled again to lift that skill to another level. The repetition will eventually see the person master the skill and others for his utility belt, which will eventually lead to the mastering of the craft.

The person who embraces the mastery cycle will eventually become the master and be able to properly break the rules in order to move the art forward. They are also the ones who are passionate about the art. They are the perfect type of people worth having on any set and in any workshop.

Copyright © 2016 by CJ Powers

Three Kids Stir Audience

© apops - Fotolia.comLast weekend I had the privilege of listening to all three of my kids speak to a good-sized audience. My son, Chris, kicked off the event with humorous comments that broke the tension in the room and drew the audience into the stories and ideas he shared. His natural style, energy and captivating performance held everyone’s attention through to his final point.

Whispers filled the room as my daughter moved up the steps to the stage. The audience was concerned for Carolyn, as no one could imagine how anyone would follow Chris’ success. But she too blew the audience’s expectations away with her unique style and satirical humor. To balance her fun approach, she shared personal anecdotes salted with words of comfort, compassion and encouragement.

After a couple more speakers, my youngest daughter, Caitlyn, climbed the steps and shared a reading. It was powerful, thought provoking and clear. Her professional presence at the podium was salted with grace and her trademark smile. Her final words launched a buzz of comments in the audience about how amazing my three kids were.

While I’ve messed up numerous things in my kids’ lives over the years, I’ll claim success in raising three incredible leaders and speakers. They learned how to think, tell stories and develop strong opinions. They are capable of communicating one on one and in large groups. But most of all, they have learned to do one thing I never set out to teach them.

All three kids can speak from their heart in an authentic manner that captures the attention of everyone in the room.

Sharing from the heart presents our greatest passions to our audience. It’s a form of entertainment that opens the mind to consider the words being shared. It also lowers the wall that protects our mind to give room for change and growth. Words of passion help the audience see who we really are and respect the message we share.

Should I leave this world unexpectedly, I’ll be at peace knowing that I left the world three times better off than when I entered it. I am a proud papa and can’t wait to see how my kids impact our world over the next few decades. It’s my prayer that they will each be given a divine calling to make a difference in their marketplace, neighborhood and communities.

And, I’m trusting that I’ll have many opportunities to impact millions too. After all, there are more than 7.4 billion people on earth that I’d like to share a piece of my passion with. Whether by speaking to one person at a time or reaching thousands through the media, I can’t imagine being a part of life and not participating in the possibilities.

© 2016 by CJ Powers

7 Great Speech Opening Techniques

Winston_ChurchillLast night I gave a talk to a group of speakers on seven techniques that will help a speaker create a great opening to his or her talk. It was well received and I wanted to share it with you. Please keep in mind that this is not a transcript of the talk, so lasts night’s humor was trimmed out to present the information more succinctly.

1. State the Importance of the Topic

This appears to be a no brainer idea, but its one that is critically important and seldom done. When the audience is told how the topic relates to their life, attention spans are lengthened and interest is peaked to absorb the content with pleasure. People always pay closer attention to topics that will effectively improve their lives.

2. Make a Startling Statement

Attention getting devices are helpful to draw an audience’s focus from their drifting thoughts to your talk. The bigger the wow factor the more alert the audience. Within a short period of time the audience scans their memories to compare what they already know to the factualness of the statement. This practice demands the audience hear you out to fill in the gaps the statement created.

3. Arouse Suspense or Curiosity

Everyone likes a good mystery that pays off with a benefit for his or her life. Our peaked curiosity places our minds into a learning mode that allows us to consider the value of new information. It moves us into the zone of soaking up information.

4. Tell a Story or Anecdote

Storytelling forms our memories and is the vehicle we use to share unforgettable information. The anecdote becomes the demonstrative element of the points we make. It is also the relatable trigger that brings back the shared self-help information we crave.

5. Ask a Rhetorical Statement

When a person asks a question, whether rhetorical or not, our minds engage in a process to find the answer. If one is not quickly found within our memories, our curiosity is peaked and we willingly hear out the messenger. If, however, we have a memory of similarity or contrast, we use the comparison as a filter in our listening process, giving full attention to the speaker.

6. Use a Quotation

Quotes stand the test of time and cause the listener to think. Winston S. Churchill is one of the most notable people ever quoted and he clarifies what makes for a good speech. “A good speech should be like a woman’s skirt; long enough to cover the subject and short enough to create interest.”

7. Reference the Occasion

Acknowledging the event you speak at helps the audience to immediately correlate your talk with the night’s purpose. The embracing of the content becomes synonymous with the event in the minds of the audience.

A successful opening gets the audience’s attention, introduces the topic, and helps the speaker establish report. These positive opening techniques drive the success factor, but should not take over the talk. Keeping the opening to about 5% of the talk’s length (not exceeding 10% of the talk) guarantees a captivated audience for the presented keynote content.

Copyright © 2016 by CJ Powers

 

Makers vs. Managers: Blocking Out Productivity

timeTime management comes to the forefront of everyone’s mind during the holiday season. Failing to block out enough time for events with friends and family can spin fun time into bouts of shouting. The approaching New Year also gives rise to planners and dreamers that require effective time management to succeed.

I’ve learned, during my tenure in the world of Fortune 50 corporations, small mom and pop type businesses and retail, that there are two primary ways of managing time. The organic processes naturally developed from the functional needs of two types of workers.

Workers who create, build, or produce are “makers.” Those who manage others are “managers.” Both require good time management skills to accomplish their charter, but each requires a very different structure of blocking out time for effectiveness.

THE MAKER
Professional makers need large blocks of time to create their product, content or intellectual property. Time is required to get in the zone, be productive, and document activities enough to pick up where they left off at a future time. Most industries require time blocks of 2 or 4 hours.

Makers tend to use the morning for creative blocks of time and the afternoons for logical endeavors. However, makers also break the rules and might find they are more productive during the wee hours of the night. Only 60% of the top 100 authors of the 20th century followed this pattern of creating in the morning and editing in the afternoon. Most wrote when they were inspired and fixed their writings at more logical times.

THE MANAGER
Professional managers typically oversee the tactical efforts of a team. They tend to block out their time in smaller half-hour increments, allowing some level of flexibility to put out the next “fire” that attempts to erode the team’s progress. The smaller segments allow for faster responses and adjustments to circumstantial changes in the tactical operations of the day.

Strong managers block out empty time slots to shift their mandatory work after a “fire” takes the team off task. In other words, they plan for the proverbial fires each day. Most managers primary goal is to support their team and make sure they continue functioning no matter what surprise issues arise.

Productivity crashes when a manager tries to block out 2-4 hour increments that keeps him or her away from supporting their team. Likewise, makers that try to touch numerous projects in a given day using half-hour increments soon finds their work less provocative, of a lower quality and far less entertaining.

Blocking out time based on function is the only method that supports the type of work the makers and managers face. Constant interruptions of a maker produce little results. Long durations of managers away from their team weaken their process and negatively impacts tactical results.

The right type of time and duration is critical to the success of both the makers and managers. Blocking out time based on function will always facilitate success. This will bring peace to the worker and confidence that his or her workload will be completed on time.

Copyright © 2015 by CJ Powers