How to Meet and Beat Deadlines Every Time

Deadlines are an important part of our work life and studies, whether it’s meeting customer expectations on a project, hitting sales targets or swotting up for an exam.  How can you ensure you meet and beat deadlines every time?

1. Set or Negotiate Achievable Deadlines

hand-861275

Is it realistic that you’ll write your new novel in two weeks?  Or run a marathon later this month with having never run more than 2 miles before?  Or do a full analysis of every competitor for next week’s board meeting?  Probably not.

You can make progress in those time scales, however.  Chapter 1 in two weeks?  Run 4 miles later this month?  Full analysis on 1 or 2 competitors this week, with another the week after?  Definitely.

That’s fine if you’re in control of the deadline, but what if the deadline comes from your manager?  As a manager I can tell you that I would be 100 times happier if you highlight any issues now than when you failed to meet the deadline; the chances are your manager has had to commit this to their superiors too.

screen-shot-2017-01-27-at-11-20-36
Time, Cost, Quality – pick 2!
  • Extend time
    I can review one competitor per week without impacting my other work, is this ok?
  • Increase cost
    I can work with Mary to make sure the review is done if we delay our existing project to the week after?
  • Reduce quality
    I can do a summary of every competitor this week, and add details in the future. Would this be sufficient for the meeting?

If you accept the deadline without challenge, your manager will believe that you can achieve it.  Managing expectations is crucial.

2. Create Milestones

balance-335980

As I said in Beat (Octopus) Blue Monday By Setting Goals breaking down large tasks into smaller ones makes meeting them much more achievable.  Writing a book could be a daunting prospect, writing a chapter less so.

Setting smaller regular milestones also helps you to review progress.  Let’s say you plan to write a 12 chapter book in a year.  If chapter one takes five weeks you’re not going to make it.  But you’ll know this in month two and you have 10 months left to adjust your plans rather than rushing to an unachievable goal.

3. Review Your Work

blue-sky-1852624

One of the key tenants of Agile/SCRUM software development is to hold regular retrospective meetings.  The team set aside an hour to review the last ‘sprint’ (usually 2-4 weeks) work.  Often these questions are used as a starting point for the conversation:

  • What should we continue doing? What is working well?
  • What should we start doing? How can we improve?
  • What should we stop doing? What is preventing us from achieving our goal?

These can be very powerful questions to help you think about how to be more efficient.  Even the very best teams can become better by thinking about and discussing their practices and constantly reviewing them.

Summary

Deadlines are a necessary part of business.  Meet and beat deadlines every time by following these 3 steps:

  1. Set or negotiate achievable deadlines
  2. Create milestones
  3. Review your work

Octopus Blue

Octopus Blue help your business to optimise your processes and software, enabling you to operate in the most time efficient and cost effective way.

Octopus Blue are uniquely independent, whole of market, business software experts. Our experienced consultants will implement and configure your entire software stack, empowering you to laser focus on what you do best.

Octopus Blue.  The business software experts.

To find out more about mentoring, or to arrange your complimentary requirements call and report, please enter your contact details below.

6 Steps to Successful Networking

A strong and varied network is essential in business, but even the thought of networking fills many business leaders with dread.  How should you approach a networking event to get the most out of it?

1. Choose the Right Event

play-stone-1237457

As a business owner time is money so it’s vital that you pick the right events.  Think about what you want to achieve by attending; Brand awareness?  Potential new customers?  Other businesses to collaborate with?  Your goal will help you determine which events are best for your company and where you are likely to get the best bang for your buck.  And on that note, remember that if you’re not the customer, you are the product!  Free events can be great, however, you will usually have to give your companies details away to attend.  Make sure you’re happy with that.  Also, consider that businesses that cannot afford paid events may not be able to afford your services either.

2. Pre-Event

Well organised events will be using social media to promote themselves ahead of time.  Look at who is following these and using the events #hashtag- there’s a good chance they’ll be there.  Think about the objectives you’ve set and who could help you achieve them.  Reach out to these people too, or the event hosts:

When I arrived several of the attendees I met had seen my message – it was a very simple way to break the ice.

3. Arrive on Time

time-is-money-1144204

Or a few minutes after the start.  Being early doesn’t help here (unless you have something to prepare or set up on site).  The hosts will be busy setting up and organising and may not have time to speak to you, meaning you could be stood in the room alone…not a good way to build confidence!

I usually arrive about 5-10 minutes after the start time.  This gives everyone time to get up and running and start to have a few conversations.  There’s usually a short queue for the drinks and nibbles at this point which is a great opportunity to make some small talk with other attendees.  It goes without saying that you should be on time for any talks or presentations!  Arrive in plenty of time to speak to others ahead of these.

4. Talk to People…and Listen!

conversation-799448.png

This is the bit you’ve been dreading…but the chances are most of the room are too!  Once you’ve done it once or twice you’ll be flying along like a pro!  Look for individuals or groups of three people – it is likely two of them will be talking and the third will be glad to engage with you.

“Hi!  I’m Andy, Founder of Octopus Blue, The Business Software Experts.  Octopus Blue help your business to optimise your processes and software, enabling you to operate in the most time efficient and cost effective way.  What do you do?”

Listen to what they say and respond to that.  You will be better remembered as someone who listened to what they said then as someone who spouted out a sales pitch.

Remember you’re both there to meet your business goals.  If you have nothing to offer each other, that’s ok.  Politely say what you’re at the event for and that you’d like to speak to more people.

“Your cake decorating business sounds great – I’ll look you up when I next have a special occasion.  I need to meet finance experts today, so please excuse me.  Enjoy the rest of the event.”

5. Exchange Contact Details

IMG_2120.jpg
Andy Bailey, Founder & CEO of Octopus Blue’s Business Card

If you have a common interest, great!  You both now have a new connection and have identified an opportunity to work together.  You could carry on talking about this for hours, but then you’d miss out on other potential opportunities.  Exchange business cards/ contact details and suggest how you might follow up.  For example, a call next week or meeting for coffee.

You’ll likely have lots of business cards.  Identify the most important ones in some way – make a brief note on the card or fold the corner over so that you can easily find them again later.

6. Post Show Follow Up

call-15924.jpg

This is where so many people fall down.  They’ve done the hard work and have a whole bunch of potential leads and new business opportunities, but they don’t follow them up.  What a waste!  Over the next few days contact the people you met.  Some will contact you and it makes you feel important and valuable.  You’ll give that same feeling to the people you contact.  Call if you have something to offer or discuss, email or send a LinkedIn message or invite if you’d like to meet in the future.  Without this step, the effort you’ve put into the 5 earlier steps will be wasted.

Summary

Networking doesn’t have to be scary.  People do business with people, so networking events are important to growing your business.  Follow these 6 simple steps and you’ll soon be a pro!

  1. Consider your business objectives and chose the right event
  2. Research and reach out to the hosts and attendees via social media beforehand
  3. Arrive shortly after the event starts
  4. Talk to people! And listen to what they can offer
  5. Exchange contact details
  6. Get in touch with the people you met

Leave your tips and experiences in the comments below and maybe we can start a new conversation!

Octopus Blue help your business to optimise your processes and software, enabling you to operate in the most time efficient and cost effective way.

Octopus Blue are uniquely independent, whole of market, business software experts. Our experienced consultants will implement and configure your entire software stack, empowering you to laser focus on what you do best.

Octopus Blue. The business software experts.

Beat (Octopus) Blue Monday By Setting Goals

Blue Monday is reported to be the most depressing day of the year, falling on the third Monday in January.  First conceived as part of a 2005 press release from a British holiday company, the pseudoscience has entered the mainstream consciousness since then.

Whether you follow the premise, the short, dark, cold days of January can make the celebrations and excesses of the end of the year seem a long way away.  This is compounded by the fact that many of us set unrealistic targets to lose weight, get promoted, write our memoirs and other admirable goals that we have little hope of achieving.

So, what can you do to alleviate the blues?  Here’s my tried and tested advice to help you achieve your new year goals.

1. SMART Goals

deserted-1838313

If you’ve worked for a large structured organisation or a smaller one with great managers, you will know all about SMART goals;

Specific
Measurable
Agreed
Realistic
Timely

Make sure your goals are SMART!  There’s a nice template from Project Smart at https://www.projectsmart.co.uk/smart-goals.php.

I want to lose weight is not a SMART goal!  How much do you weigh now?  How much do you want to weigh?  How will you know if achieve it?

An example of a SMART goal to lose weight could be I want to lose 2 stone (13kg) before my holiday in July.  2 stone in 6 months- sounds achievable to me (I didn’t say easy, I said achievable!).  You can measure it and there’s a specific date.  Great start!

2. Break It Down

http://izquotes.com/quotes-pictures/quote-when-eating-an-elephant-take-one-bite-at-a-time-creighton-abrams-490.jpg

Imagine setting a goal at age 5 to pass your GCSEs.  Or on the first day of your new job to double sales.  You would think there is no way can I do that!  But I can start to read words and count at 5.  I can make my first sale at my new job. A common mistake business and individuals make is to set goals that are too big and scary which don’t get met.

Losing 13 kg sounds daunting. Losing 1kg less so.  I will lose 1kg 13 times weeks is much simpler to comprehend.

3. Estimate

light-bulbs-1875384

Business and software projects often run beyond their due date or are over budget because they are not estimated properly or progress is not monitored effectively.  Far too often I see business set goals based on the management reporting cycle rather than the level of work required.  1 month deadline so we can show success at our next board meeting.  Miss the deadline?  It better be done next month!

All your detailed plans and projects are worth nothing if you cannot provide an accurate estimate (not a guess).

Continuing our weight loss example above, I want to lose 13 kg in 26 weeks, or 0.5kg per week.  That’s a good start.  But factor in the things which could hamper this.  Late Christmas get together with absent family last week of January?  You are probably not going to make much progress.  Dry January challenge accepted (you can sponsor me here btw!) then you may be slightly ahead.  And don’t forget the more weight you lose the harder it becomes.  Maybe our realistic estimate should be 1 kg per week in the first 4 weeks of January, 0 in week 5 then 0.5 from February onwards. This would mean I achieve my goal in early June, 3 weeks ahead of my deadline.  It also gives me a little contingency if a dessert is a little too tempting when I’m out for a friends birthday!

4. Make A Plan

http://www.azquotes.com/picture-quotes/quote-he-who-fails-to-plan-is-planning-to-fail-winston-churchill-85-52-29.jpg

How are you going to achieve your objective?  Make a project plan, discuss your software feature with your developers, acquire the labour and materials you need.  Without a plan, you will be constantly reacting to circumstances rather than driving your project.  They don’t have to be written in detail necessarily and plans can change, but there must be one!

Weight loss plan:

  • I will take 1 piece of fruit to work with me which I’ll eat instead of chocolate when I’m hungry
  • I’ll go to the gym/run/swim [insert sport here] 3 times a week

5. Monitor Progress

mac-1784459

Monthly (weekly) management reports, progress updates, board meetings.  They’re not there because senior management love meetings (although some masochists may do!).  They are there because business leaders need to see what is happening in their organisation and change direction or make corrections if they are needed.

I’ll weigh myself Sunday mornings and write down my weight.  Seeing progress is incredibly powerful.  I may not have lost 13kg and be at my target weight, but I have lost 1, 2, 3kg and I’m heading in the right directions.

What if I haven’t met this week’s goal?

6. Adapt

arrows-709731

Remember I mentioned flexible plans?  No matter how accurate your estimates and assumptions something will change.  Guaranteed.  You have a plan; you can see changes and what you need to do to adapt to this.  You can see this each week when minor corrections can be made rather than after 6 months when you’re nowhere near!

Maybe I need to spend longer at the gym, drink less alcohol or make some other adjustment to my plan to make sure it’s achievable.  A small change over a long time can have a big impact.

Summary

computer-767776.jpg

  1. Set SMART goals
  2. Break these down into smaller bits
  3. Estimate the time and effort required
  4. Make a plan – and stick to it!
  5. Monitor your progress against your plan
  6. Adapt and update your plan if necessary

Do you have any other suggestions?  I’d love to hear your comments and learn about your progress.  Why not add your goal to comments and come back and see your progress!

Octopus Blue will help you to achieve your goals for 2017, with consultancy and advisory services to help define and monitor your company vision and goals, and mentoring services to assist you and your team achieve them.

Contact andy.bailey@octopusblueuk.com 07974 717713 to discuss further.

Business Tech Trends 2017

So, what’s in store for 2017?  Here are the top tech trends that you can expect to hear more of this year in the business world.

The tech world took its foot off the accelerator in 2016 with many providers choosing to iterate on existing productions rather than launching innovative new solutions.  Apple products such as the iPhone 7, Apple Watch 2 and MacBook Pro received lots of meh, but at least they didn’t explode as the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 did!  Voice controlled AI in the form of Alexa, Cortana and Siri showed their potential, but are not yet reliable enough for commercial use and Blockchain continued to be the revolutionary new payment system that again failed to break into the mainstream.

robot-1797548

1. Cloud First for Business

Most of us have been relying predominantly on cloud applications for the last few years, whether we knew it or not.  Facebook, WhatsApp and Snapchat for communication, productivity applications such as Evernote, Office 365 and Google Docs and storage solutions such as Dropbox, iCloud or Box.

Businesses have been slower to adapt.  With more of us working remotely or at client’s premises and with falling prices of cloud applications 2017 could be the year that commercial enterprises become “Cloud First”.  Group communication via Slack or Microsoft’s Teams and Enterprise versions of Office 365 or Google Docs will join the existing back office accountancy and CRM solutions already used by many businesses.

architecture-1867638

2. Government Cloud

If business were slower to adapt to cloud than individuals, that’s nothing compared to the snail’s pace adoption by government bodies.  Don’t expect revolution here, however now that security is significantly tighter with the major online products government organisations will dip their toes into the 21st century!

uk-parliament-1203181

3. Strengthening Cyber Security

Speaking of security, expect even more cyber-attacks in 2017- even if Donald Trump doesn’t acknowledge them!

To combat this expect security to have a higher profile in 2017.  You will see an increase in the number of websites using 2-factor authentication and tighter encryption to avoid high-profile and costly exposure.

The Ashley Madison attack in 2015 was highly embarrassing, causing many ‘difficult conversations’, before the 2016 theft of £2.5m from Tesco Bank and the alleged cyber hacking of the US election.  Will there be something bigger and more damaging in 2017?  Bank security is very tight, but what about the applications that link to them via APIs?  Could an accounting or payroll application prove simpler to break into and manipulate for hackers?

ninja-1507457

4. Bitcoin, Blockchain and Cryptocurrencies

High street banks are already investigating how these technologies can be used alongside traditional currencies, most notably Blockchain.  The massive fluctuations in exchange rates that followed the unexpected Brexit and US Presidential Election results in the UK and US,  potential French Presidential Candidate Marie Le Pen standing on a mandate to withdraw France from the Euro and China has announced that certain social security payments will be made with Blockchain.  Will 2017 see the rise in the use of these technologies as a safe-haven in uncertain times?  Whether it is or not, this could be year Blockchain hits the mainstream.

bitcoin-1813507

5. Wearables Wearing Out?

Not literally of course – although some of them may do!  The use case for smartwatches and other devices for personal fitness and the quantified self movement are as strong as they ever were.  An increasing number of people wear Fitbit and similar to track their health, especially after the end of year excesses.

But what about business?  Many accountancy and CRM providers have developed Apple Watch or Android Wear apps to complement their mobile apps, however we’ve yet to see one that fulfils a genuine business need.  They’re much more often used to show how up to date their technology teams are or as a sales tool which is then quickly forgotten.  Until wearables can be used for anything other than personal monitoring without requiring a link to a smart phone it is difficult to see them making any further traction in the commercial sector.

smart-watch-821559

6. Internet of Things In! (IoT)

Interconnected smart lights controlled with your smartphone, cloud connected fridges which tell you when food is going out of date and Amazon Dash Buttons to re-order, 2017 will see the IoT continue its march into our homes.

What about the workplace?

The usual candidates are all developing Operating Systems for the Internet of Things, but it still too early to see any commercial benefits yet, beyond a nice conversation starter and to show off your shiny new office!

network-782707

7. Virtual Reality Check (VR/AR)

2016 saw the launch of VR for mainstream entertainment with Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and Sony PlayStation VR making waves.  But that’s just entertainment, right?

Before the production of cheap video cameras and reliable internet, few of us would have imagined conducting business meetings on TV in different countries!  Great as video conferencing is, nothing beats face to face contact. VR could be a bridge between the two.  The cost of these devices is defiantly affordable to commercial enterprises and there’s no doubt this was in Mark Zuckerburg’s mind when Facebook acquired Oculus for £2bn back in 2014.

augmented-reality-1853592

8. Rise of the Chatbots!

2017 will see the increase in the use of robots and chatbots across business applications.  Slack and other communication tools already make great use of bots to inform groups of completion of tasks and events in different systems.  As these are more widely used they will continue to become more and more useful, learning how to respond to humans in natural language.  Support desk and front of house services can be offered by these new smart bots, freeing up time for us mere mortals to focus on non-repetitive tasks.

girl-320262

9. Machine Learning

Machine learning is a type of artificial intelligence (AI) that provides computers with the ability to learn without being explicitly programmed.  Companies such as Facebook already use this type of technology to determine what is shown in your news feed.  Bookkeeping applications such as Xero and Exact are building this same technology into their products; match a bank transaction from Vodafone to your mobile phone invoice in January and these applications will recommend the same posting in February.  They’re not alone in this and the range of processes machine learning can be adopted for is a big as the software developers imaginations!

anatomy-1751201

10. The Fourth Industrial Revolution

Self-driving cars from Telsa, Google and Apple?  Or love interests as dramatically shown in Her and Ex Machina!  AI and Robots are coming to take our fun!

The media has had a field day hyping that robots will take over our jobs…even the BBC got involved!

Building on the Digital Revolution, the Fourth Industrial Revolution will encompass breakthroughs in robotics, AI, IoT and other areas mentioned above.  The fear that our jobs will be taken is wildly overstated.  Yes, many tasks that are currently done by humans will be automated, but that doesn’t mean we will be redundant!  The changing nature of work will mean that we may do different tasks, not that everything will be done for us.  Mass Production created millions of new jobs in the early 20th Century that did not – and could not – exist before.  It’s too early to know what future careers will be formed, but there’s no doubt that millions more will be created for our rapidly growing population.

hand-1571849