Thursday, December 21, 2006

Ndarala End Year Message 2006

Photo: Gordon Smith Gara River near Armidale

Ndarala is shutting down for the Christmas break, resuming activities on Tuesday 2 January.

Each year for the last ten years (Ndarala was founded in April 1996) I have taken the opportunity in December to review Group activities and look forward to the new year. This year with the development of this blog I am posting the review for the public record.

2006 has in fact been the most difficult and complicated year since our foundation. Each year to date I have been able to report solid progress. At times over 2006 I have wondered whether we would have any progress to report by year end.

As a Group we have to constantly reinvent ourselves. Our mission was and remains helping the independent management related professional and professional practice achieve personal, professional and business objectives through cooperation while retaining true professional and business independence.

This is not always easy. The very fact of independence that creates the need also creates the main impediment to meeting that need. Sometimes running the Group is a bit like trying to herd cats!

The world in which we operate changes all the time.

Since we began there has been a proliferation of social networks and social networking tools, meeting some of the needs we were created to fulfil. Our attempt to reinvent ourselves by investing in support of cooperative business development activities failed because it did not properly meet the needs of our membership base. Worse, our ordinary operating income collapsed, leading to the close of our central operating company.

Yet despite all this we have survived the year and look forward to the future with some confidence.

Part of the reason for this lies in our previous heavy collective investment in the creation of our own intellectual property. Part lies in the creation of Group infrastructure independent of the previous operating company or indeed of any funding support what so ever. The very changes in the on-world that created part of the challenge we faced also created part of the solution. But in all this the most important reason lies in our people and their continued support for our core vision and mission.

I have no idea just how 2007 will finally evolve. I do know that we will survive and grow and that the Group will be very different by year end.

Finally, I would like to thank our clients, the Group management committee and our key members for their support over 2006.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

RANZCO Setting the Standard - Developing Ophthalmic Competencies

Note to Readers: This case study was prepared by Dario Tomat (left) February 2004 and released following review by Dennis Sligar (right - Director, Education and Training, RANZCO).

In 1999 the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists first introduced the concept of defined standards that could be used to assess competency.

The decision by the Victorian Government to allow optometrists to prescribe S4 pharmaceuticals meant that non-medically trained practitioners were given access to a range of controlled substances.

RANZCO proposed to the Government that optometrists should demonstrate a level of competency before they were registered to prescribe S4 drugs.

This approach saw RANZCO engage Whetstone, a management and training consulting firm that is part of the Ndarala Group, to assist with the facilitation of the development of standards. The work of establishing the Optometric Therapeutic Standards was carried out through workshops involving number of professional ophthalmologists facilitated by Whetstone's Dario Tomat.

Following the successful implementation of these standards, RANZCO chose to use a similar approach to defining standards for ophthalmic training when the need arose to develop and document the new five year training program the College was going to move to and would accredit through the Australian Medical Council.

Dario Tomat of Whetstone was again engaged to facilitate the process.

Overview of Selection and Training Approach

Before the introduction of the five-year program potential applicants were required to complete a Part 1 examination as a pre-requisite for entry to the course. Trainees later sat a Part 2 examination towards the completion of the training program.

Training was undertaken on the job with registrars being assigned to various training posts under supervision of Fellows of the College. Supervisors provided periodic reports on the progress of the registrars. While there was an expectation that during the rotation process registrars would be provided with experience in all sub-specialties, detailed monitoring of the scope of training for each trainee was not undertaken centrally by the College.

As part of the move to a five-year program, the Part 1 examination for entry was abolished and the hospital-based selection process was augmented by the assessment of applicants' behavioural capabilities.

The College also decided that summative assessment during the training program would be desirable to ensure that the scientific basics were well understood early in the course.

Registrars need to have passed assessment in the basics by the eighteenth month of the course. The Part 2 clinical examination was to be conducted during the fourth year of the course.

Standard Setting Process

The Curriculum Committee of RANZCO facilitated by Dario Tomat coordinated the development of the approach to standard setting.

The Committee identified two potential approaches. One possibility was to divide the subject area into a number of bands of knowledge that increased on an annual basis. The other possibility was to use a sub-specialisation approach.

The Committee decided to set up a pilot of the two approaches. A "Fundamentals" slice covering the knowledge and skills required in the first two years was to be developed, while glaucoma as a sub-specialty unit was also piloted.

Two sub-committees comprising 6-8 volunteer Fellows were established to handle the task.

To minimise development costs, membership of sub-committees was generally confined to a region. A blend of sub-specialists and generalists was sought the committees to ensure that the requirements in the standards were reflective of a general level of ophthalmic practice rather than becoming too deeply slanted to the sub-specialty.

A series of three workshops a week apart were scheduled for each pilot.

As part of the facilitation Whetstone developed a template for presentation of the standards and prepared drafts of the workshop outputs after each session. These drafts were circulated to the group electronically for comment and correction.

Once completed, drafts were circulated to the Curriculum Committee for review and were then placed on the RANZCO web site seeking further review and comment from the College membership.

The drafts were then critically reviewed by a College education workshop.ᅠ The workshop resolved that a hybrid approach to standard setting should be adopted.

The fundamentals draft standard comprising basic ophthalmic clinical and surgical procedures should be retained.ᅠ This should be augmented by standards covering each of the basic sciences.

These standards combined would form the basis for the first two years. Registrars would be required to demonstrate competence in the basic sciences by the eighteenth month and to achieve all of the fundamental standards by the end of the second year in order to proceed to the final three years of study.

Standards for the clinical content of the course were to be developed around the concept of ophthalmic sub-specialities. ᅠThe registrars could cover these in any order based on the experience available within their rotations. ᅠBecause registrars must achieve the standards in all areas, the Director of Training in each training scheme would work with trainees to develop a program of rotation covering all areas.

Because the basic science standards had largely been defined in the previous four year course, their further development was undertaken in one full-day workshop for each of the basic standards. Whetstone or members of the College training staff facilitated each workshop.

Membership of working groups was drawn from ophthalmologists in a region, and included subject experts from the Part 1 Board of Examiners.

A similar process of peer review was undertaken to that adopted for the standards.

The ophthalmic specialty standards were developed over a series of three evening workshops (requested by members) spaced one week apart. Normally the workshops were conducted in private residences, or at College facilities. A light meal without alcohol provided by RANZCO was served each evening.

RANZCO staff sought expressions of interest for standards development from amongst the College Fellows, normally on a regional basis. As a consequence, workshops were undertaken in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Auckland NZ. The use of regional groups meant that the concept of standards could be more widely understood and better ownership of the new process achieved amongst the College members.

These workshops were also facilitated mainly by Whetstone with some undertaken by College staff.

Development of the standards occurred over approximately an eighteen-month period.

Lessons learnt

Use of interested ophthalmologists worked very well, although the nature of ophthalmic practice meant that some working group members were unable to attend all workshops. Having groups of four to six meant that the absence of one or two members did not impede progress at the workshop.

The spacing of evening workshops one week apart meant that members had only three days to review draft outputs. This tight time frame meant that some members did not have the opportunity to provide input. Scheduling the evening workshops two or three weeks apart would assist members to more carefully review each week's output.

Evening workshops that ran for more than 3 hours (excluding meal time) resulted in fatigue among participants.

Planning for workshops, ensuring that members brought suitable references and that they were reminded to attend on each day of the workshop was required.

The further process of peer review was coordinated by College staff, leading to sign-off from the Curriculum Committee on each standard.

The next stage - training clinical tutors, examiners and trainers in the use of the standards - will be coordinated through College educational networks.

Note on authorship:

This case study was prepared by Dario Tomat February 2004 and released following review by Dennis Sligar (Director, Education and Training, RANZCO). The material is copyright Whetstone but can be copied and quoted with appropriate acknowedgement.

Further Information:

The standards developed by the College through the full curriculum review process are in the public domain and can be found at

Case Study: Potential use of Blogs as a communications device within specialist medical colleges

Note to Readers: This March 2006 case study prepared by Jim Belshaw explores the role that blogs and blogging might play as a communications device within the world of the specialist medical colleges. Because these colleges are distributed complex multi-purpose organisations, they illustrate many of the issues that must be resolved if blogs are to be used effectively for management or educational purposes. Jim is a former CEO of the Royal Australian (now Australian and New Zealand)College of Ophthalmologists.

Blogs and blogging have become very popular. Yet despite that popularity, or perhaps even because of it, there is limited available material on the use of blogs as a practical communication device within organisations.

Many senior managers or professionals still see blogs as belonging to the personal, to the domain of the blogging enthusiasts. Where business uses are seen at organisational level, they tend to focus on the role that blogs can play in supporting sales and marketing.

We have felt for a while that blogs can be a useful, practical communications tool within organisations. However, to be used in this way two critical conditions must be met. First, they must meet a real need as seen in the eye of users. Secondly, they must also take into account any user constraints.

To test our thinking, we decided to take the Australian and New Zealand specialist medical colleges as a short case study. We selected the colleges for two reasons:

  • They are distributed multi-purpose organisations operating in a complex environment marked by many players. For that reason, they illustrate many of the problems that must be resolved if blogs are to be used effectively for management or educational purposes.
  • They are also an area where a number of Group professionals have direct personal knowledge, making it easier toᅠcompleteᅠanalysis on possible blog uses without extensive on-ground research.

The analysis that follows does not pretend to be definitive. Our aim is simply to assist people to understand some of the issues involved.

Setting the Scene: Overview

The ANZ colleges are not for profit entities controlled by the Fellows. Fellows are spread across Australia and New Zealand. In addition, many colleges have Fellows in other countries. The Committee of Presidents of Medical Colleges (CPMC) web site ( provides an entry point if you want to find out more details on both the colleges in general and individual colleges.

The colleges have two core roles.

Role one is the training of future specialists. There are thousands of trainees in different specialisations working as registrars under the supervision of Fellows in hospitals across ANZ. In addition, some of the Colleges maintain training activities in other countries.

Role two is the advancement of medical skills and knowledge and the maintenance of professional standards. To this end, the colleges (among other things) publish learned publications, help fund research, encourage the spread of knowledge through special interest groups together with various scientific congresses and run systems for continuing medical education.

The colleges vary enormously in size from the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners with almost 11,700 members and the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (9,000 members) to the Australasian College of Dermatologists with 373 members and 60 trainees.

These size variations are reflected in variations in organisational complexity and in the resources available to support College operations.

With the notable exception of General Practitioners, colleges operate in both Australia and New Zealand. This means that they interface with and must respond to two national governments as well as Australia's eight state and territory governments. The practical effect is that at any point in time a college, and especially the bigger colleges, may be dealing with twenty plus issues and a dozen agencies spread across multiple jurisdictions. This adds to the complexity of College operations.

Reflecting multiple jurisdictions as well as history, the colleges combine a branch structure with central operations.

Setting the Scene: The Challenge of Change - Specialist Training

All the colleges face rapid change across the whole spectrum of college operations. This can be illustrated by taking the training of specialists as an example.

The exact structure of training operations varies to some extent from college to college. However, in broad terms, the colleges:

  • define the training process
  • set curriculum
  • set and marks exams to test knowledge
  • accredit training posts
  • and supervise trainees and trainers.

These training activities depend heavily upon voluntary time contributions by Fellows. Within the colleges voluntary committees of Fellows oversight training in both academic and process terms, with staff in a supporting role. On-ground training in hospitals is also provided by Fellows, generally on a voluntary basis.

In recent years all the colleges have had had to respond to great challenges on the training side.

To begin with, there has been rapid educational change. Both medical knowledge itself as well has approaches to the practice of medicine have been undergoing rapid change. These changes have to be factored into training approaches, as do changes in approach in the broader education and training environment within which all colleges operate. As part of this change process, all Australian college training programs now have to go through a formal accreditation process managed by the Australian Medical Council (

This educational change has combined with equally rapid policy and regulatory change, a change process complicated by the presence of multiple legal jurisdictions. This change process includes:

  • Rapid change in health policy as well as funding. Changes in health policy and funding at both national and state or territory level affect every aspect of college training operations. Funding of medical places at university determines the number of future potential trainees. Funding of registrar posts largely determines when and where people can can be trained. Changing approaches to the recruitment and assessment of overseas trained specialists affects assessment loads as well as supervision and training requirements. Government mandates as to what and how to teach affects both curriculum and training approach.
  • Adoption by Government of new approaches to public administration including purchaser-provider models and the extension of competition policy. As part of this process, the college training programs have come under attack as anti-competitive. More information here can be obtained by search on the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission web site - see

These challenges have forced rapid and continuing change on all college training programs.

This blog contains one case study example of the change process - the development and adoption of ophthalmic competencies.

In this case, the need to respond to one regulatory change (the grant of prescribing rights to optometrists in one jurisdiction) led to the development of an initial approach to competency definition. The decision by the Australian Medical Council to introduce accreditation (an action combining education and regulatory change) led to the decision to extend the competency approach to provide a solid basis for new training approaches. The challenge then was to define the best way of doing this in the context of a dispersed professional group participating on a voluntary basis.

The Potential Roles of Blogs in Facilitating Management and Change

On the surface, all the issues of governance and management associated with running a distributed higher educational institution in a highly complex and changing environment would appear to make blogs a highly useful tool. For example, blogs might be used to:

  • facilitate general communication among the membership thus aiding retention and a sense of belonging
  • facilitate communication among college council or board members, thus improving governance
  • assist the operation of special interest groups and divisions with geographically distributed membership
  • network trainees
  • facilitate the operations of a wide range of college committees
  • support the operations of local college branches.

Again on the surface, adoption of blogs should be facilitated by the presence of a distributed and highly intelligent membership with an interest in ideas and access to technology.

The reality is in fact a little different. Our view is that blogging can be very valuable, but only if the application is targeted and managed in a very precise way. To understand this, we need to look at the main impediments blocking the effective adoption and use of blogs.

Impediment: Failure to understand Blogs and Blogging

We put this one first not because it is the most important problem - in our view it is not - but because it is the first entry level problem to be overcome.

Discussions with college people last year suggested that the way that blogging has emerged means that very few people see it as a potential management tool. Just as important was the instinctive reaction to see the matter as something for the IT department or web supplier when in fact the management issues are central, the technology secondary.

Impediment and Opportunity: Existing Communications Systems

Because we are looking at blogs as a communications tool, blogs must mesh with and complement or replace existing communications systems.

All colleges already use a variety of communications mechanisms including:

  • Face to face meetings at both and central and branch level. The geographical size of Australia and New Zealand combined makes travel expensive and time consuming. For that reason, many college meetings are clumped with the annual scientific congresses since Fellows are expected to attend these anyway. Even so, travel and accommodation costs form an important element in college budgets.
  • Phone hook-ups.
  • Extensive use of email.
  • A variety of newsletters and magazines.
  • College web sites. These include password protected member sections.

Taking existing communications mechanisms into account, blogging will work as a tool if and only if it:

  • meets a need not already being met at both user and organisational level
  • or meets a need already being met in better and more cost effective way.

Impediment: Time, Need and Payback

Meeting user need is a central requirement.

When I was CEO of the Royal Australian College of Ophthalmologists (1998,1999), the College's IT committee was very concerned about the slow take-up in IT among the Fellows. The trainees were expected to be computer literate (among other things, they had to use an Internet based system to maintain their surgical log books), but many of the Fellows were not or, if they were, did not make great use of the new technology.

To help understand this, I flow charted the daily life of an average Fellow. I found that they generally worked very hard seeing patients. While a few entered patient details into the computer, most dictated patient notes into a recorder over lunch and/or at the end of the day before they went home. They did so because this was the most time efficient approach. Then when they went home, often quite late, they had family commitments. This meant that they could not get onto the computer until quite late in the evening. However, this time was also their time for personal and professional reading, for personal business and for personal relaxation such as just watching TV.

The bottom line in all this is that no matter what the advantage to the college, Fellows will only access a blog if the time return to them is greater than all other alternatives. Thinking about this, we concluded that there are three types of blog that might work at Fellow level.

Number one is short term project or working group blogs, blogs formed to facilitate communication within a project. I have not seen any blogging discussion in this area, but intuitively it is a potentially powerful use.

Number two we call, for want of a better phrase, spasmodic use blogs. Many college special interest groups only get together at the annual scientific meetings. For the rest of the year they tend to activate if and only if there is a need. So here we see a standing blog as a device not for continuous communication but as something that could be activated as a support if the need arose.

In thinking about blogs, we also looked at a the third type of blog, a continuous use blog supporting a college core on-going activity. With one exception, we concluded that this type of blog was unlikely to work unless managed on a special needs spasmodic basis. There simply wasn't sufficient need for continuous communication.

The exception was branch operations. Unlike central committees that can draw support from college staff, many college branches have little or no staff support and therefore dependᅠupon voluntary time contributions from busy Fellows to operate. A blog here may well be valuable in reducing load upon key Fellows.

Fellows vs Trainees

We concluded that the position was different when we move from Fellows to trainees.

While there are individual hospitals with largish numbers of trainees, trainees tend to be much more isolated. Colleges already have a range of mechanisms for communication with and networking trainees. Even so, we thought that two blogs might work, one focused on the trainees themselves at a personal level, a second on the training function itself.

In our view, a blog designed to facilitate communication among trainees is likely to work measured by use and outcomes (especially building a sense of community) because it provides a mechanism to help overcome isolation. However, we also believe that it will work if and only if it is seen by trainees as their blog. And this raises a new impediment, fear among college staff and some Fellows that the blog might be misused.

We also thought that a blog or blogs could be used to support the training function by providing a forum in which trainees could share knowledge and raise questions for answer by supervisors and relevant experts. For this to work, the blog needs to be moderated (we use this term in the sense of summary, not control), while relevant Fellows must be prepared to put in time to supply answers.

Impediment: Limitations on Staff Time

One major impediment identified during discussion lay in limited staff time.

The reality in most colleges is that limitations on Fellow time mean that action requires staff commitment. College staff are already over-stretched and simply shudder at the thought of an additional time commitment to first set up and then manage blogs. So any proposal to introduce blogs must have staff support. This means in turn that things must be made as easy as possible in terms of needs definition, set-up and management.

Impediment: Absence of Models and Case Studies

This brings me to the final impediment, the absence of models and case studies that can be used to identify issues and provide guidance. This case study is a small step in filling that gap.
In this context, and looking at it from a management viewpoint, the opportunities that we have identified all have one thing in common, the potential blogs are all one element in a communications armoury rather than an end in themselves.

Our analysis also suggests certain steps that need to be followed if blogs are to be used as an effective communications tool:

  • The starting point is to define what you want to achieve from the blog or blogs.
  • Step two is to look at the blog from the viewpoint of the user. Why should they participate given their limited time?
  • Step three is to look at your other communication mechanisms. What are you already doing? How will the blog fit in?
  • Step four is to look at the structure of the blog. How do you structure the blog so that it is easy for your visitors to use, to find past material?
  • Step five is to look at the management of the blog. Who is going to manage, how much time will be required?


This case study has focused especially on the possible use of blogs as a communications tool within organisations, using the ANZ specialist medical colleges as an example. The colleges are an interesting example because the nature and complexity of their operations draws out some of the possibilities in regard to use of blogs within membership based organisations and as an educational tool as well as a more general management tool.

Our overall conclusion is obviously positive. We believe that blogs should be moved from the world of the blogging enthusiast into the normal tool kit available to management. However, for this to happen experimentation will be required to test and modify the form to meet specific organisational requirements.

Note on Copyright

The paper is copyright Ndarala 2006. However, it can be quoted, copied or reproduced with due acknowledgement. The following should be included for citation purposes: Jim Belshaw, Case Study into the possible use of blogs as a communications device within specialist medical colleges, Ndarala Staff Paper, March 2006.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Belshaw Takes a Break

Photo: South West Rocks, New England

Tomorrow I leave for a few days in South West Rocks, one of the most beautiful places in New England.

While there is an internet cafe in South West Rocks and I will be checking my blogs and responding to any comments, I do not expect at this point to make any posts.

I want a rest to rethink and re-charge.

Project Management for the Professionals - Planning the Project

This post continues our series on project management. A list of of posts to date in the series can be found at the end of the post.

Having defined the project, we can now proceed to detailed planning. This means listing in detail what is required to successfully complete the project along the three critical dimensions of quality, time and cost. As before, steps are likely to be carried out on an iterative basis.

From a consulting perspective, the project brief represents stage one, whereas the proposal covers stage two. Again from a consulting perspective, the central point is never assume that the first stage has in fact been done properly. This is rarely the case.

Overview of Steps Involved

Key planning steps are:

a. establish the project objective.

b. choose a basic strategy for achieving the objective.

In practice, both a. and b. should have been established during the first phase. The objective now is to test and extend them.

c. break the project down into sub units or steps, specifying the relationships between the sub units.

d. determine the performance standards for each sub unit.

e. determine the time required to complete each sub unit.

f. determine the proper sequence for completing the sub units and aggregate this information into a schedule for the total project.

The degree of difficulty in steps c. through f. rises exponentially with the size and complexity of the project. Past a certain point, project management software is required if the project is to be expressed and managed in any meaningful way.

In most cases, such software is not required. However, in all cases simple graphical techniques such as GANTT charts and flow diagrams can be used to help project planning.

Flow diagrams simply express the relationships between the different elements in pictorial form. A Gantt Chart is a horizontal bar chart that graphically displays the time relationship of the steps in a project. Each step of a project is represented by a line placed on the chart in the time period when it is to be undertaken. When completed, the Gantt chart shows the flow of activities in sequence as well as those that can be underway at the same time.

g. determine the resource and financial requirements for each sub unit and aggregate costs into the project budget. Typical cost components are:

  • Labour
  • Overhead
  • Communications
  • Travel and Accommodation
  • Materials
  • Supplies
  • Equipment Rental
  • General and Administrative
  • Profit (if applicable).

So long as activities have been specified precisely, most input costs can be reasonably well defined. The usual exception is time. For a variety of reasons, time inputs are always underestimated. As a rough rule of thumb, initial time estimates by an in-experienced person can usually be multiplied by three to gain an estimate of total time outcomes. With an experienced estimator, a 1.5 multiplier usually provides a reasonable guide.

Development of budgets often forces project revision. The first budget estimates are often called the base line budget and are then used as a base for subsequent revisions not just of costing, but of basic project structures themselves.

h. design the necessary staff organisation, including the number and kind of positions and the dates and responsibilities of each.

i. determine what training, if any, is required for project team members.

j. develop the necessary policies and procedures.

k. develop the project plan as the basic planning document. This should specify outputs and outcomes, define activities clearly, specify the relationships between activities, and define the implementation path together with relevant budget information.

The steps described to this point are generally applicable to all environments. However, some additional features do come into play in a consulting environment.

Proposals and Project Plans

In general, the proposal to the client sets out our understanding of the brief (project definition) and the way we propose to meet the client's requirements (project planning). The proposal in combination with the brief are therefore critical project documents.

The proposal now needs to be turned into a project plan. In general, this is done once we know that we have been awarded the contract.

Where the proposal is very detailed, the transformation into project plan is relatively easy. However, where (as is often the case) the proposal has been prepared under pressure, development of the plan may involve significant additional work.

Preparation of the brief plan may reveal weaknesses in the proposed approach requiring corrective action. If significant, these may need to be agreed with the client during contract negotiation.

Again depending upon the form of the proposal and brief, task descriptions will need to be prepared. These should define outcomes, timing, relationships with other tasks and allocate responsibilities. The task descriptions form the basis for contractual arrangements with various participants in the project team.

Once prepared, contractual arrangements within the team (responsibilities, payment terms etc) should be agreed, subject to any revisions as a consequence of contract negotiations with the client.

The last stages in the planning process are to agree final specifications with the client and negotiate the required contract.

During contract negotiation either we or the client may suggest variations to the approach contained in the proposal. Care must be exercised here. In the euphoria of winning the contract, variations can be suggested and agreed too which may subsequently create real financial or performance difficulties.

All variations must therefore be clearly identified, their project implications specified, and any necessary changes made to the project documentation.

Previous Posts in this Series

Note on Copyright

Material in this series is drawn from the Ndarala Group Short Guide to Project Management. The material is copyright Ndarala but may be reproduced and quoted with due acknowledgment.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Project Management for Professionals - Conceiving and Defining the Project

The hard part in any project is getting underway. There is something basically daunting in a blank sheet of paper or computer screen.

The key thing to remember is that any project begins with study, analysis and discussion. Do not aim for perfection in the first instance. The key is to get some initial ideas down that can then be used as a base for discussion and refinement.

We can now turn to look in more detail at the various stages in the project life cycle beginning with stage one, conceiving and defining the project.

Projects vary greatly in complexity and hence in degree of planning difficulty. However, even with simple projects good results depend upon the adoption of a structured approach. In fact, much later project failure can be traced back to failure to follow a properly structured approach during this first stage.

One of the hardest things to get across to people is that time spent in conceiving and defining the project is rarely wasted. Many people just want to get on with it. This leads to a project cycle that runs do, plan, fix.

Overview of Steps Involved

Even if you alone are to be responsible for the project, it can still be helpful to involve others in the project definition stage in order to test and extend your ideas.

Brain-storming is a useful process during this early stage. It taps into the creative potential of a group throughassociation of ideas. It also begins the establishment of the group view that is generally necessary if the project is to be a success.

The key steps in this first phase of the project life cycle involves:

a. identifying the people who should be involved, at least in the early stages

b. defining the need the project is to meet, including any essential outcomes

c. defining and then collecting the information necessary to write the project definition or specification

d. setting the end results objective. A clear distinction must be made between what the proposal is expected to generate (the deliverable or output) and the use to which those results are to be put (the outcome)

e. listing imperatives and desirables

f. generating alternative strategies

g. evaluating alternative strategies

h. choosing a course of action

In practice, these steps are likely to be worked through in an iterative fashion. The degree of detail needed will vary depending upon project complexity.

For much of our work, the client will already have conceived and defined the project and expressed this in the consultant's brief. We then use the proposal preparation phase to test and refine that brief.

Implementing the Steps

Learning curve is a common term in complex systems development environments such as aerospace. It refers to the way in which knowledge and skills are acquired. Initial progress is slow, but then grows at an exponential rate before flattening out.

Learning curve issues are particularly important in projects since teams are bought together to meet a particular need and then dissolve. The project manager has to recognise and find the best way of managing these issues

In all cases, action begins with study, discussion and analysis in order to:

a. define the need to project is to meet, including any essential outcomes

b. Identify the people who should be involved, at least in the early stages.

c. define and then collect the information necessary to write the project definition or specification.

These three steps will normally be done together.

In general, it is desirable that all those who will be involved in the project, as well as those who will use the outcome or be affected by the project, should have some measure of involvement from early in this initial phase.

This allows problems to be more easily identified, gathers project support and reduces learning curve difficulties in that those who will be involved start to develop shared objectives and build project knowledge. It also makes it easier to define and collect required information.

Having got this far, the next step is to write the project definition. This involves:

a. setting end-results objectives. The need to be met has already been defined. The project outcome must now be properly defined and related to the defined need. Just what should the project deliver? How will this meet needs?

b. listing imperatives and desirables. Most projects involve multiple outputs. However, a major problem in project definition is that projects can be overladen with just too many requirements. So it is important to be clear as to those things that the project must deliver as compared to those that would simply be desirable.

c. generating alternative strategies. Just how might the project objectives be achieved? Answers here are usually not clear cut. The critical need at this stage is to identify as many alternative paths as possible without bogging down in detailed evaluation.

d. evaluating alternative strategies. The identified strategies should be analysed and ranked.

e. choosing a course of action. The best course of action can now be chosen and expressed in a project brief.

The length of the project brief will vary depending on the size and complexity of the project. It may also vary depending upon whether the job is to be done in house or via external contractors.

Whatever the job and approach, there are two major problems that must be avoided during the process.

Problem one is that of over-specification in terms of the approach to be followed. At this stage in the process, it is simply not possible to be too prescriptive since the approach will, or more precisely should, vary during the next stage in the project process, planning the project.

Problem two is ensuring that all the required project sign-offs are in place.

Previous Posts in this Series

Note on Copyright

Material in this series is drawn from the Ndarala Group Short Guide to Project Management. The material is copyright Ndarala but may be reproduced and quoted with due acknowledgment.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Project Management for Professionals - What is a Project?

The concept of project management as a discipline began
with the US Space Program in the early 1960s Since then, its practice has expanded rapidly into government, the military and industry.

Project management focuses on a project. A project is an undertaking that has a beginning and an end and is carried out to meet established goals within cost, schedule and quality objectives.

Project management brings together and optimises the resources necessary to successfully complete the project. These include the skills, talents and co-operative efforts of a team of people, facilities, tools and equipment, information, systems and techniques and money.

Projects can be very large, running into billions of dollars. They can also be as small as the development of new procedures for answering the telephone.

Project Parameters

While projects vary, all projects have common and interacting elements that together set project parameters:

a. output or deliverable. The project’s end result. This is obviously critical in determining just what must be done and, sometimes, when it must be done by.

Note that the same terms are also often used to describe the results from key tasks or stages within the project.

b. specifications. Key features of the required output or deliverable. They are also often classified in terms of functional specifications (defining the function or duty to be performed), performance specifications (defining the performance required) or technical specifications (defining the technical and physical characteristics)

Specifications may also include mandatory (things that must be achieved) and desirable (things that it would be nice to achieve, if possible) items.

c. outcomes. The use the client expects to make of the results. One of the most common causes for project failure lies in the failure to distinguish clearly between outcomes and outputs.

d. quality. What quality outcome is required? Quality has to be defined in terms of the need to be met. In some cases, a quick and dirty results may be all that is required. In others, a high quality result may be necessary.

In all cases, quality has to be defined as fitness for purpose. That is, quality is defined in terms of the purpose of the task.

e. cost and budget. Budget is often used in two ways. How much can we afford to spend (our budget) as opposed to the project budget, the amount the customer has agreed to spend.

Projects should always be fully costed including indirect costs.

f. time. Time refers both to the time input involved in completed the project (number of people hours or days) and to the elapsed time or period over which the project is to be completed.

g. schedule. The organisation of activities over time to achieve the desired outcome.

The Project Life Cycle

All projects go through a common life cycle regardless of size. The phases in this life cycle are:
a. conceiving and defining the project
b. planning the project
c. implementing the plan
d. completing and evaluating the project.

In practice these stages will overlap. Thus conceiving and defining the project can overlap and merge with planning the project, while implementation in its turn will overlap and merge with completion and evaluation.

Key Project Management Skills

Effective project management is not always an easy task. It involves:
a. organising a project from beginning to end
b. structuring a plan that will stand up under pressure
c. getting people to accept plans and support them
d. setting measurable project objectives
e. motivating team members
f. helping team members solve problems
g. utilising available resources
h. eliminating waste of time and money
i. measuring project performance
j. using information systems that respond to project needs.
k. identifying problems in advance and then altering either the process or the project to deal with them.

Sounds daunting? Its not as hard as it seems.

Previous Posts in this Series

Note on Copyright

Material in this series is drawn from the Ndarala Group Short Guide to Project Management. The material is copyright Ndarala but may be reproduced and quoted with due acknowledgment.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Project Management for Professionals - Introduction

Project management is all about the effective management of projects, sets of discrete activities intended to achieve discrete ends.

Most people think about projects in terms of major tasks. In fact, all jobs can be broken into projects by grouping related activities against desired ends.This means that project management techniques can be applied at all levels in organisations to improve performance.

This new series of posts describes our approach to project management. They are not intended to be definitive, but to provide a guide to effective project implementation

All professiomals stand or fall by our ability to meet client need. If successful, we will get further work from that client or through his/her contact network. If we fail, the reverse holds true.

Project management is all about the effective management of projects, sets of discrete activities intended to achieve discrete ends.

Most people think about projects in terms of major tasks. In fact, all jobs can be broken into projects by grouping related activities against desired ends.

This means that project management techniques can be applied at all levels in organisations to improve performance. It is not sufficient, however, just to meet client need.

Our profitability depends upon payments for our time, upon payments for our intellectual property and upon recovery of disbursements. So we must not only meet client need, but also do it in the most cost effective way possible.

We also need to ensure that we capture all the lessons and intellectual property belonging to us generated by the project. Effective project management of individual assignments is critical if we are to achieve these various objectives.

However, the importance of good project management does not end here. In practice, all activities can be turned into projects by grouping related activities against desired ends. In turn, this allows project management approaches to be used at all levels in all organisations to improve performance.

Against this background, these posts will provide a step by step approach to the adoption of simple project management techniques.

Note on Copyright

Material in this series is drawn from the Ndarala Group Short Guide to Project Management. The material is copyright Ndarala but may be reproduced and quoted with due acknowledgment.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Management Trends

At present Australia, and many other parts of the world, are transfixed by what used to be called leveraged buy-outs.

From our viewpoint, such activities do pose significant performance risks that may affect the future, even the very survival, of the target. However, there was an interesting article here in Fortune presenting a counter viewpoint.

In essence, the burdens imposed on public companies by compliance costs and short term performance requirements have become such that you can make a profit simply by taking the company outside the system. Makes one think!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Getting value from your web site - Dilanchian case study

Graphic from Striking gold with kiwifruit, story from the Dilanchian web site

One of the messages that we try to get across to Ndarala members is the important role that a web site can play in promoting their expertise to a broader marketplace.

We are not talking here about revenue from advertising or from e-commerce sales through the site, although some people do make a lot of money there, rather the use of the site to support ordinary professional activities.

Ndarala member practice Dilanchian Lawyers & Consultants (Sydney) provides an interesting case study here.

Dilanchian bills itself as intellectual property & innovation professionals. The firm competes against some of the biggest firms in the country, working in a marketplace where clients often equate size with substance.

To compete, the message Dilanchian wants to get across is the way the firm combines expertise with modern approaches - Noric sometimes uses the word funky to define the message. The web site is a key marketing tool.

When you look at the site you will see that it has clean lines, a modern feel. It also incorporates a blog.

Since their new site went on line a couple of months ago, Noric and his team have focused on building content. This has started to attract real attention with, as an example, their story on Kiwi fruit featuring (among other places) in the latest WIPO SME newsletter. They are also attracting a small but steady stream of new clients through the site.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Institutional and Process Issues in Science Commercialisation

Note to readers: This Ndarala staff paper briefly reviews some of the institutional and process issues associated with the commercialisation of scientific research. Our aim is to encourage debate in an area of great importance to institutions, industry and government.

When some of us first became involved in science commercialisation more than twenty years ago, a core concern was the need to bring universities and other scientific research bodies more effectively into the commercialisation process, to break them out of the academic ghetto.

While this is still important, we now have concerns that the focus on commercialisation and the associated search for commercial funding has become too great and may in fact be distorting our academic structures.

Universities' Multiple Objectives

By their nature, universities have to meet multiple objectives in terms of teaching, research and the pursuit of knowledge. Their role is not just to teach skills, but to disseminate knowledge and encourage thought. Many of the greatest advances in practical knowledge have come, often by serendipity, as a consequence of intellectual curiosity and the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake.

The disciplines and rigours of applied research and development carried out within bounds set by commercial objectives and non-disclosure agreements can be quite antipathetic to these traditional academic objectives. The problem is most acute in some very successful departments where most postgraduate students, together with a significant proportion of staff, are in fact funded to do commercially oriented research.

The outcomes here can include:
  • Reduction in the quantum of curiosity inspired research, leading ultimately to a reduction in the knowledge available for real commercialisation. This skew can be reinforced by the attraction of the best students away from pure into applied science.
  • Reduction in the spread of knowledge as more science becomes tied up by patents or by non-disclosure agreements especially in the pre-patent phase. The effects of this at international conferences already appear to be significant.
  • Reduced career opportunities for students. This comes in part about because the traditional ways of measuring performance (theses, articles, conference papers etc) through exposure to scientific colleagues become less available, in part because of a narrowing of student focus that can then restrict subsequent job opportunities.

One side-effect of the decline in the traditional way of measuring performance is an increased emphasis on patents as a substitute for papers or articles. This has its own problems. Among other things, it can create an incentive for over-patenting.

In our view, resolution of these difficulties requires action at three levels.

At government level, there needs to be at least some focus on the provision of funding for scientific research and scholarship independent of commercial or commercialisation considerations.

At institutional level, we believe that there should be more focus on achieving balance between:

  • Traditional academic teaching and research
  • Tied research where the funding is provided in a way that is essentially fee for service
    Independent internal research carried out in the hope of prospective commercialisation

At firm level, we believe that firms acquiring technology from or utilising university departments to develop or test technology should be prepared to consciously consider allowing the students and academics involved to write and speak about their work within the constraints set by necessary confidentiality.

Industry can be its own worst enemy here in that an over-obsessive emphasis on secrecy can in fact reduce the incentive for scientific students and staff to participate pro-actively in the targeted development of the technology.

A thought through policy on disclosure can benefit both sides.

Overcoming Complex Institutional Structures

The institutional structures involved in the commercialisation of science can be quite complex involving a number of parties:

  • Students: Many scientific discoveries/projects involve students at honours or postgraduate levels working on different aspects of the problem. This can give rise to a number of problems including issues associated with the marking of theses and ownership of resulting IP. Failure to properly address these issues can and has resulted in subsequent commercial problems.
  • Staff: Staff can be involved in research as part of their normal work paid for by the institution out of institution funds or from funds contributed to the institution by a commercial firm or some combination of the two. Staff may also work direct for a commercial firm within rules set by the institution. Again there is ample scope for confusion over IP issues.
  • Institution commercialisation companies: Most universities have commercial arms that coordinate university resources to deliver commercial services and which may play a lead role in commercialisation on behalf of the University. The relationships between these bodies and other parts of the system can be complex and confusing.
  • Institutions, including universities and CRCs. The CRCs themselves are usually consortia with links back into both commercial parties and universities. Each institution has its own policies and costing arrangements in regard to both the supply of services and science/technology commercialisation.

This complex mix can create major difficulties including slow and sometimes opaque decision processes, conflicts in expectations, unrealistic expectations and failure to properly protect IP.
There is no magic bullet that will suddenly solve these difficulties. However, they can be eased to some degree through the creation of protocols and processes within institutions to clarify and support the commercialisation process.

In saying this, we recognise that most if not all institutions now have established policies and procedures intended to support the commercialisation process. The problem from our perspective is that many of these appear to focus on governing rather than facilitating the process.

In our view, both institutions and industry would benefit from action to simplify and clarify institutional policies and procedures. There would also appear to be a case for more cooperation and information exchange between institutions on the process side, facilitating the creation of common templates and process documentation.

Managing Cultural Issues

Commercialisation approaches also need to take into account potential cultural clashes.

Effective commercialisation requires targeted research carried out against sometimes tight deadlines. Individual lines of research may need to be dropped, new lines started. As the research moves into the industrial test phase, an increasing proportion of researcher time needs to be spent supporting the mechanics, reducing real research time.

These requirements can conflict with the universities' own unique cultures and structures. Problems can include:

  • Clashes between the academic curiosity that gave rise to the discovery in the first place and the need to devote an increasing proportion of time to the more mundane mechanics. This can be compounded by an unwillingness to give up pet topics and lines of research.
  • Clashes between the way performance is measured and objectives set within the institution at personal, departmental and institutional level and project requirements.
    Differences in time perspectives between university and commercial approaches. These differences can be compounded by institutional and industrial structures relating to the employment of staff. This may create problems, for example, if long working hours are required to make something work.
  • Divided reporting lines. For example, researchers may have a direct report to the head of the Department, dotted line report to the commercial partner, giving rise to project management problems.

These difficulties may be minimised by moving the research out of the university at an early stage. However, this is not always possible, nor is it necessarily desirable from a university perspective since it can reduce the benefits that might otherwise be achieved.

In our view, the problem is best managed through proper definition up front of the management arrangements to be applied to the commercialisation project.

Note on copyright:

This staff paper is copyright. It may be copied or quoted with due acknowledgment.

Global Changes in Public Administration

A number of Ndarala professionals have worked in or with Government at senior levels. Our people have worked as senior public servants, as ministerial advisers, as consultants to Government, as advisers to those dealing with Government. As part of this work, we have been monitoring global changes in public administration for a number of years.

Why is this important? There has been a global revolution in public administration since the 1970s. Some elements of this are good, others not so.

I have been pursuing some of these issues on my personal blog, drawing both on my own experience and work done by others within Ndarala. The views expressed are personal and to a degree partisan in that my interpretation is influenced by my own views and experiences. However, they may be of interest in explaining change.

The key posts are:

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Hints for Service Level Agreements

"If you're not measuring it, you cannot manage it."
This article, prepared by Noric Dilanchian (Managing Partner Dilanchian Lawyers & Consultants Sydney), discusses the way in which modern service level agreements reflect fundamental changes in the way we do business.Noric can be contacted at or visit

Traditionally trade in commodities and products dominated legal relations in commerce. Trading relationships were relatively simple. Typically customers bought things and then looked after their support, servicing or maintenance. ᅠFor these tasks there were more people in trades to fix things that broke.

It was often said that the best contract was one that was filed away after signature. That era is long gone. The act of "buying" now involves contracts which:

  • relate more often to services than things (ie products or commodities)
  • often involve linked transactions - for products, services and support
  • document ongoing legal relationships - not one off trades between suppliers and their customers.

This contemporary configuration exists in major contractual relationships between information technology suppliers and their customers for software, phone, hosting and Internet connection offerings. It is also common in other sectors.

The change from seller-buyer to symbiotic legal relationships has been driven by new or evolving technical, commercial, management and societal needs. In the legal arena this has increased demand for legal relationships which are customised, networked, collaborative or innovative. In turn, this has seen increasing use over recent decades of:

  • partnering
  • joint ventures
  • strategic alliances
  • outsourcing
  • collaborations.
Role of Service Level Agreements

A central feature of these relationships is the need for contracts to provide for practical considerations for service delivery and reciprocity between the parties. For that reason, service level agreements are a common element in mostᅠof the new organisational and legal forms.

All buyers and sellers can benefit from the types of clauses and schedules put into service level agreements. It is a myth that service level agreement features are exclusive to the IT, telecommunications and utility sectors.

Developing the Service Level Agreement

Setting a service level is about defining standards and quality and ultimately price and value. This is of course relevant to all contracts. However traditionally in contracts a lot was left to common sense. That was OK when the focus was on trade in things, in one-off deals, for standard offerings. It is not OK for modern commerce given its dependency on "essential services" or requiring customisation, servicing, consultancy and ongoing support.

What is the service level agreement solution to this need? Nowadays service level agreements commonly set out provisions for:

  • service definition
  • timing standards
  • minimum and maximum quality needs
  • compliance with set standards
    payment (incentives and rebates)
  • consequences for performance drops
    current and future needs
  • monitoring methods
  • security of premises and information
  • alternative dispute resolution; and variation of arrangements.

In service level agreements for the IT, telecoms and utility sectors, minimum performance standards can define the maximum percentage of downtime including during peak usage times, response times, the form of measurement, transaction volume, and the number of concurrent users.

To ensure legal remedies will be available, it is vital to prepare for and clearly state the consequences of performance shortfalls. It is also common sense to resolve issues before signature, and to deal with them before they become problems or litigation fodder.

For vendors and customers, flexibility for variations is achieved by providing for regular reviews, factors which must trigger costs variations, and compliance with changing market and technical standards and business-specific needs, processes and technology.

For customers, good service level agreements also include both remedies and penalties for missing set service levels. These penalties need to motivate the vendor to achieve customer objectives. Customers don't want to miss service levels over and over again.

Writing the customer's business objectives or goals into a service level agreement can be useful. To minimise third-party performance risks, it may be sensible for a customer to insert a clause stipulating that the primary vendor (ie prime contractor) remains accountable for shortfalls caused by third-party partners.

These are among the many ways of using the law to achieve better, faster and cheaper outcomes. ᅠService level agreements, or service level clauses in contacts, are tools which can benefit buyers and sellers providing "win-win" outcomes.

Note on Copyright:

This article is copyright Dilanchian but can be copied or quoted with due acknowledgement.

Preparing for a Business Sale or Collaboration

Owners want to sell for the right price. Buyers, licensees and collaborators want to buy, fully-informed. Here are four tasks to achieve a meeting of minds.
Noric Dilanchian, Managing Partner, Dilanchian Lawyers & Consultants, Sydney. Noric can be contacted at or visit

In our work with clients we look for ways to improve results. We know from experience that clients who succeed in selling or collaborating, prepare for that eventuality.

Our research shows that four preparatory tasks help achieve great results.

The four tasks reduce the fear, uncertainty and doubt ("FUD") arising from the fact that a business is not a physical thing. Rather, it is a bundle of abstract concepts.

Of course, most businesses have tangible elements like a business name, brand, products, as well as people, systems and a leased location .

But the intangibles of a business require definition:

  • its operating legal structure which has clear financial and tax consequences
  • its accounts with line items which may be under-documented
  • customs and traditions honoured but not recorded
  • services, contracts, and terms and conditions for customers and suppliers, which are rarely fully written
  • its undocumented innovation methods that help save it from extinction

It's vital that the managers and owner of a business define this bundle of concepts before beginning transactions towards selling or collaborating.

This article is about how to make these transactions successful and smoother.

Task One: Effective Communication

First, astute clients communicate the nature and depth of proposed business opportunities to prospective buyers, collaborators and their advisers.

To this end, prepare an information memorandum or similar profile document which acts as a hook to draw a response from a prospective buyer or collaborator.

Without it, a business spends time and money giving prospective buyers and collaborators ad hoc information on demand. Supplying information only on demand may sometimes save costs. But this approach exposes transactions to FUD, adds stress to negotiations, erodes trust and increases the likelihood of oversights. A buyer who wants basic data will be surprised by a delay in its supply and may perceive the delay as a weakness. FUD thrives when positive information is absent.

Remember that presenting information graphically can be very effective. Prospective buyers and collaborators will appreciate a chart or diagram illustrating your business or proposal.

Consider creating an organisation chart, a business process map, a value chain diagram on your business model, and a diagram of your IT network typology.

Spreadsheet information is also useful. Consider preparing a break-even analysis, product development budget, and a historical statement of revenue and cost of sales.

Contact Dilanchian for templates for any of these. They aim to communicate how smoothly and efficiently others can merge or align their operations with yours.

Task Two: Build the Quality of Your Assets

Second, clever clients build the quality of assets.

This often involves improving the business's legal and intellectual property law protection. An intellectual property audit will analyse and document positions under copyright, trade mark, confidential information, designs and patent law.

If intellectual property protection or intellectual capital documentation is weak, a buyer or collaborator will lose confidence in your proposal. Once they or their advisers find gaps in your protection, FUD will grow and the deal may slip away.

Leases are a common problem area. When selling a business, a lease may be easily transferable to the buyer. However, you may have lease weaknesses to fix. These could include unresolved maintenance problems, an approaching lease expiry date, high rent or restrictions on using the premises for new purposes.

To compensate for these and other perceived weaknesses, the buyer may want a fee discount or legal fall-backs such as tougher warranties and indemnities, and even pre-defined liquidated damages obligations, guarantees and company charges. Build the quality of your assets by paying attention to these matters and you avoid or minimise the financial and legal consequences.

Task Three: Work on Deal and Transaction Structuring

Third, our clients do better if they work on deal and transaction structuring before starting negotiations.

This puts them in control of negotiations. They get to shape negotiation game play and define and draft effective terms and conditions.

It's an advantage to be the negotiator who controls the deal-making and its document preparation process. Contact your adviser to structure your transaction before negotiations begin.

How do you manoeuvre to secure a better price? One way is to present financial circumstances positively. For example, if your projected recurring revenue is from recently-signed customer contracts, prepare a forecast cash flow projection. If a disclaimer or rider is needed, supply the forecast as a best endeavours estimate, not a warranty as to definite future revenues.

Think creatively, ask questions and use your contacts.ᅠIf you want to sell your business, think about buyers you might have overlooked. Email your brains trust, pose questions, hire a business broker or commission a report from a specialist consultant to identify prices and likely buyers. Sometimes buyers come from outside your pool of competitors. There may be recent entrants in the market unaware of your proposal.

Another way to create value is to remember that it's your team of people that create your intellectual property, not machines. Astute clients build the morale of their people and ensure their contracts and arrangements are attractive to prospective buyers and collaborators.

eview and properly document commission schemes, update contracts, if necessary, and remove irrelevant key performance indicators for your people.

In setting the sale price of a business, industry conventions or ratios play a part. These norms can limit your price, break away by:

  • highlighting cost-reduction possibilities - list any volume discounts, no-fee deal arrangements or fee waivers in place for long-term loyalty
  • illustrating how your order processing system is scalable, profitable or above industry norms
  • using surveys to prove higher-than-normal customer satisfaction rates
  • using customer retention statistics to prove lower-than-normal customer churn rates.

Think of negotiations and transactions as theatre, improvise by all means, but work with a script.

Task Four: Design your Strategy

Fourth, during proposal design, deal-making and negotiations, wise clients perfect outcomes with transaction-specific strategies.

For example, if you're selling, attract more than one bidder before entering serious negotiations with any one bidder and you benefit from competition between them. If you feel uncomfortable doing this, use a representative. To act as your representative a solicitor, accountant or business broker can really make a difference here.

Some structures require special care. A transaction-specific strategy for a non-incorporated joint venture proposal should always involve clearly defined and measurable outcomes for the collaborators. Commission a business planner to work with you in building a business plan for the joint venture. Test the financial plan with your accountant. Build IT to manage the enterprise.

Check contracts for the due date for all payments. The purchase price usually requires a part-payment on exchange of contracts and the balance on completion. Sometimes buyers seek payment by instalment. If this is unavoidable, protect yourself by withholding revenue or delaying the transfer of title to key assets until payment is complete.


To achieve the "meeting of minds" that facilitates legally-binding contracts, you need to communicate well with buyers and collaborators. The four tasks reduce FUD for them by:

  • lowering the real and perceived risks of doing business with you and your enterprise
  • improving the intellectual property of the business, helping build the monopoly they seek
  • creating an easier, turn-key transition with fewer loose ends.

Our research shows that by completing the four preparatory tasks and using an information memorandum, you greatly improve your chances of a successful business sale or collaboration.

Note on Copyright

This article is copyright Dilanchian, but can be copied or quoted with due acknowledgement

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Formatting Confusion

Just a note. I switched this blog across to a new format in Beta Blogger only to create considerable internal formatting problems on previous posts.

I will try to fix these up in due course. When I work out how!

Use of Blogs to Support Professional Activities

I find it interesting that there is still resistance among professionals to blogs and the use of blogging as a professional tool.

I now use blogs in two main ways.

At a personal level I have found them a very time effective way of keeping in professional touch. This was very important early this year because I was feeling very stale and isolated, wondering if my own professional competency had gone stale in the face of other pressures.

At the time I started really focusing on blogging I had not fully realized the fundamental change that had already taken place in the blogosphere, the fact that a remarkable number of professionals around the world were using blogs for discussion, as a marketing tool, as a way of promoting their ideas. Further, because they posted so frequently, in many cases 3-5 times per week, there was a currency to their comments making it easy to see trends. In addition, the comment facility on blogs allowed for a degree of response and interaction, making knowledge transfer easier while also building contacts.

Perhaps the most important feature of blogging at this level is the way it acts as a huge information screening device. Most bloggers look round their world for things of interest to them and then include links in their posts. I presently monitor some fifteen key blogs on a daily basis, quickly scanning to look for things of interest. Given average post patterns, this means that I scan up to 12 posts per day, reading some in more detail. The 12 posts will probably contain up to 30 links, of which I will click through on 3-4 and again scan. 30-40 minutes per day keeps me in touch in a way that is simply not possible with either conventional web searches or the print media.

Perhaps it’s not surprising that blogs have taken over as a key information resource for so many professionals. Certainly I no longer feel either stale or isolated. I know that my professional competency still stands up on a global basis, and that’s not a bad thing to know.

The second way that I have been using blogs is the more time consuming one, as a publishing and promotional device. My conclusion is positive, although the lead times involved in getting sufficient content up to attract interest and be credible are substantial, far more than I had expected. You really have to post several times a week to achieve impact. It is also important to post comments on other blogs. One side effect of all this is the establishment of contacts with fellow professionals.

Given these positive experiences, I would strongly encourage all professionals to experiment with blogs and blogging.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Building Local Tourism -a comment

We have now put up two linked stories on this site, both dealing with tourism development. The first story, Building Local Tourism, discusses what is involved in developing tourism. The second, Frustrations of a Tourism Official, sets out the response of a tourism official to the first story. Both stories were first published in 2004 but remain relevant today.

Australia faces particular problems - these are not unique just to this country - in the drift of people to the bigger cities and (in the Australian case) to the coast line. Regional communities are attempting to meet this challenge with varying degrees of success.

A number of Ndarala's Australian professionals are involved with regional and community development. Others work in different fields but live in Regional Australia. So issues relating to regional and community development are of considerable interest within the Group.

All communities are affected by change. Sometimes those changes are so large that they simply overwhelm local ability to cope. More often, local responses are possible. One of our frustrations lies in getting this message across. As an example here, see the short linked story on the Regional Living Australia blog about the failure of regional communities to make best use of the web.

Building Local Tourism - Frustrations of a Tourism Official

Note to Reader: This response to our article on building local tourism was prepared by a rather frustrated local tourism official. We are sure that many will share his frustrations. Ends

I have read the last Forum article. It is a good summation of regional visitations. A number of issues are apparent to me from the article and can be substantiated through my own experience.

Need for Local Coordination

The first issue is the the need for local coordination of local government efforts, visitor centres and the local industry so that they have a common knowledge of just what is being promoted.
I fear that this is near impossible because of the movement in and out of the industry by major players / personalities. Then, too, marketing reflects what the locals think is good in many cases, not what the consumer/market wants.

This is what I call the " local dollar influence" in the decisions on local brochures and marketing programs.

The need for coordinated marketing of local product at all levels and all mediums

This can only occur after the product has been identified. This is the problem on the coast. Some people think visitors come here for the beach as they did in the 1950s and 1960's for an extended period. Some still do,but other desires are now more sophisticated and are focused on for example, nature based tourism and retail shopping for some isolated visitors.

The market is now more sophisticated, especially in product sought and accommodation. Often I drive past 1960 motels at (town name removed) with no one in them. Why?? the consumer has gone up the market chain as their wants and desires have changed with affluence.

Changing Attitudes

As I see it, the hardest thing is to change the local's opinions and prejudice. As an example, in one area the councils want to change the name of the regional tourism organisation because one influential Mayor thinks that would give local ownership. Local ownership is obviously a good thing, but not when it conflicts with market realities. In this case, Tourism NSW market research says that the consumer sees the area in terms of its existing name. Any new name will require time and expense to establish. So there is a conflict between local political and market realities.

Failure to Appreciate the Value of Market Research

There is also no appreciation of market research on just who is the visitor in regional NSW, as far as local politicians and some operators go. Any area which did go down this path (market research) would save a lot of time and money and get better results.

Lack of Support

Another issue is the lack of support for local tourism bodies by local operators. This problem in NSW contrasts with other States where the industry has got its act together, eg Queensland ,Western Australia. On my last information NSW lags at the bottom of the tourism list apart from Sydney's international potential.

Problems in Attracting International Visitors

The problem for regional NSW is that despite the anticipated growth of international tourism of 8%, those areas will see very little of it, due to distance and the attitude of product wholesalers who look at the bottom line and only promote the major icons Sydney, Port Douglas etc.

Here we suffer from the problems of years of disconnected promotional efforts at state and local level. NSW is a very big state. It is inevitable that regional tourism will suffer in promotional terms as compared to Sydney. We also need to develop and promote key regional icons in competition with Sydney, not as an add-on.

Problems in Domestic Tourism

Domestic tourism is only figured to grow 1% per year, which makes it very hard for regional areas, unless they promote their uniqueness.

If short visits are the new industry (caused by work, family commitments, petrol prices,generally high regional airfares and limited funds), then I think that local areas will have to look at developments in the inter regional tourism markets.

This is very hard to sell to many coastal operators who see the lucrative high spending Sydney market as the answer. It amazes me the bias of some local areas against surrounding areas. Last week, I did some market testing on the visitors to a local caravan park. The majority were from one major nearby centre, the rest from another. The local operators know this and do their own marketing on this basis. Where do you see this in "official" documents??? you don't!!! as the bias is to the metropolitan market.

Again, I think regional areas are in need of accurate figures for just who are their visitors and what segments of the market are they utilising, as a starting point.

Increasing Competition

I do not think a lot of people associated with regional tourism know just how increasingly competitive it is out there in the market place. There is a particular problem in some areas that some retirees who are new to the industry, are balancing their new visitor businesses with their lifestyle needs. This further complicates the issues as they try to run a 24/7 business on a 35 hour week approach.


Tourism can benefit local communities, although it is not the panacea that some people see it to be. But major changes in attitude and approach are required before we can make real progress.

Friday, November 10, 2006

People Management in Professional Services - a training primer

Note to reader: This Ndarala staff paper by Jim Belshaw explores some of the issues associated with improved approaches to training within professional services firms. The paper is an edited version of comments previously made on the Ndarala blog on Managing the Professional ServicesᅠFirm. Ends

At a time of demographic change and increasing competition in professional services, improved people management is critical to improving firm performance.

This short primer focuses onᅠone element in improved people management, improved approaches to training. I have deliberately kept theᅠargument as simple as possible given that my main audience is not training professionals as such. My aim is to provide a simple primer on training from a management perspective.

The post is written against a background of major change in both education and training. Those interested in the debate on the training side can find out more from the January 2006 Ndarala staff paper Is Training Snake Oil?.

Setting a Context: Professionals vs Managers

I thought that the best way of startingᅠwas by focusing on the difference between managers and professionals because this links to one of the issues that I mull over from time to time - why do so many professionals make lousy people managers? And, more to the point, just what can be done about it.

I know that this is not a new issue. In engineering, for example, the problems involved in promoting good engineers into management positions removed from direct hands-on engineering has been a topic of discussion for years. In medicine, the sometimes inability of doctors to communicate with patients is well know. The inability of some senior partners in law firms to manage is infamous.

While the issue is not new, I was reminded of it again in a recent discussion with a senior professional on a management issue. The professional is highly intelligent, even brilliant in his field, and also has an interest in management issues. Yet he simply could not see the issue in question. He gave instructions, his staff should get on with it!

When I looked at the discussion later, I realized that the core of the problem lay in the role, training and even language of the professional as compared to the manager.

A manager's core role is to manage the resources available to him/her to achieve the objectives set for the area. Performance is always measured, or should be, by the results of the area.
In contrast, the professional's role is to carry out specific professional tasks. The core focus is on the performance of the individual professional in undertaking those tasks.

This difference in roles is reflected in training.

The professional's training dates back to the craft system of the middle ages. It focuses on the individual acquisition and application of the knowledge, skills and values associated with the profession. The core focus is individual, not collective. The subsequent rewards offered by the profession, and especially the critical recognition of peers, are all based on individual performance. It is no coincidence that the Nobel prize is awarded to individuals, not teams.

The manager's training is different.

To begin with, we have to distinguish here between the acquisition of technical skills such as financial analysis and broader management skills. Many of those coming out of business schools become technical experts and should more properly be classified as professionals rather than managers.

Beyond this, management training focuses on managing people and other resources. Further, most managers become managers by doing, by actually managing with increasing degrees of responsibility. In contrast, many professionals are suddenly thrust into management roles when they get to a certain point in their career and are then, suddenly, expected to manage.

Differences in role and training are also reflected in differences in personality. Perhaps more accurately, different personalities are attracted into the professions as compared to management. The professions tend to attract people who prefer individual endeavour, whereas managers are more collectivist.

I recognize that these are broad generalizations. Some professionals are very good managers, some managers are hopeless managers. Nevertheless, the differences are real and mark very different cultures.

The bottom line in all this is that it is not surprising that most professionals are not good managers and that professionals and managers can experience difficulty in talking to each other.

The War for Talent

There is presently a war for talent across all areas within professional services. This war can only get worseᅠgiven an aging population in developed countries. Better training is - more precisely should be given the way training is often managed in practice - a key weapon in the war for talent.

Starting with three general points.

First, at organisational level, training should be thought of as the process by which staff acquire the knowledge and skills they need as they need them. This simple definition draws out certain key points:
  • the focus is on organisational needs
  • training is defined as a process. Attendance at a few continuing professional development seminars or individual short courses is not training in the way I am defining the term, but instead should be thought of simply as training activities
  • the training process focuses on the acquisition of specific knowledge and skills as needed when needed.

Second, it seems clear that the great majority of knowledge and skills acquisition- probably well over 90 per cent in most organisations, 100 per cent in some - is informal and takes place on the job. This simple statement has significant implications:

  • From experience, most organisations define training in terms of specific defined training activities. This limits the training function to 10 per cent or less of the total knowledge and skills acquisition within the firm
  • The value of the on the job training depends upon the training and supervisory abilities of existing staff. If these are poor, then total learning across the firm will be significantly reduced
  • Firms who want to maximise returns from training need to manage both formal and informal learning.

This brings me to my third general point.

Part of the current debate in training deals with doubts among trainers and others as to the extent of real returns from training. These doubts are partially due to measurement difficulties, what should we be measuring, how should we measure it? But they also flow from the narrow way in which training is defined.

In my view, and this extends my second point, training can offer significant economic pay-backs if, but only if,the training process focuses on and integrates total learning within the firm, including informal learning.

An example from my own experience to amplify this last point.

The engineering profession in combination with the aerospace industry developed the concept of the learning curve, expressed as a" graph that depicts rate of learning, especially a graph of progress in the mastery of a skill against the time required for such mastery." (

Linking this across to our current discussion, in simplest terms, the shorter the learning curve with new staff or existing staff doing new things, the greater the return to the firm.

To illustrate.

Some years ago I had to establish a new section in the Australian Treasury to process applications by foreign investors wishing to invest in Australia. This was my first experience as section head. We were under delivery pressure and were carrying out a new activity in a politically sensitive environment.

Recruitment of staff was difficult and took time. There were general staff shortages compounded by the fact that my new section was in a relatively unfashionable area of the Department. However, we still had to deliver regardless.

I did have access to one staff pool, new graduate recruits. The conventional view at the time was that it took at least twelve months before such staff really became useful. I did not have this luxury, I needed them to be able to do things quickly. So I defined structured on the job training with a graduated mix of process and research tasks, combined with staff seminars, thus mixing formal and informal training.

I was not surprised to find that people improved more quickly than expected nor that I had a generally happy team. I was surprised at the extent of the improvement. I found that it took my people about three months to get to the competence point usually expected at the end of the first year, a huge performance gain. Later when I did an analysis of the 33 or so people I had working for me during this period, I also found that their later promotion patterns had been better than the Departmental average even though their qualification level on entry had been lower than the Departmental average.

Different Training Types

One core difficulty with training as a process and a key reason why training fails is that it can involve a mix of outcomes each requiring a different approach. Mix them together and you can get a mess!

I need to clarify just what I mean by the word outcomes. In the current context, I am not talking about the results from specific training activities, but am instead applying the term to broad generic training categories.

I will describe these in a moment. From a practical management perspective, the key point is that both managers and individual professionals can use them to help make judgements about training. Further, you do not need to be a training expert to do so!

The key training outcome categories I am talking about are:

  • knowledge -how & what to do
  • skills - the capacity to do
  • judgement - when to do
  • and attitude - willingness to do.

Individual elements in this mix are better suited to different training modes.

Knowledge, for example, can be acquired via self-study with the acquisition measured through oral or written test. This allows for a variety of delivery modes including eLearning.

This is also an area where the new computing and communications technologies and especially the internet are steadily undercutting training's traditional role as a supplier of knowledge by giving people the ability to access information when they need it. This makes the firm's information systems an adjunct to the training process.

By contrast, skills acquisition requires practice, practice that may need to continue after the formal training has been completed if the skill is to be really internalised. Certain types of skills may be capable of being taught, practiced and measured via simulators. Others, the softer management or communications skills are an example, require direct oversight and group interaction.

Judgement takes skills acquisition one stage further and can only be acquired through experience, including observation of others.

We can now see why on the job training is so important, why 90 per cent plus of knowledge, skills and judgement formation takes place as a natural by-product of work. Only while working can you acquire the firm and environment specific information you need and the actual practice required to build knowledge and skills. "Formal" training can supplement, not substitute.

The final training outcome category, attitude, is actually a slippery one because so many things combine to create attitude. I have no doubt that training can be valuable in giving people information on the attitude to be adopted in regard to specific clearly defined things. However, the use of training to achieve broader attitudinal change is, I think, very uncertain.

Competency Based Approaches

The terms competency and competency based approaches have become very fashionable in Commonwealth and European countries, much less so in the United States.

While we have problems with their rigid and formalised application in the vocational education and training arena, they do provide a critical building block in the training process because they provide a bridge between the definition of the need to be met one one side, the training approach to be adopted on the other.

Let's start with a very simple definition.

Competence means no more than a person has the knowledge, skills, judgement and attitude required to carry out a task or set of tasks to a required standard. So when we talk about competency based approaches we are talking about the required standard on one side, what is needed to achieve the standard on the other. Once this has been defined, then it becomes easier to identify performance gaps and to take corrective action.

In practice, the whole process can be quite hard because it may require different ways of looking at work. For example, it means putting aside activity lists - and a remarkable number of people think of a position in terms of a long list of activities that have to be carried out to do the job - to focus instead on the core features of the job. What are they, how do we measure them, what are the key inputs required for success?

Some firms have already adopted this approach. For those that haven't, getting started need not be too complex. You can look at the problem in terms of specific positions. Alternatively, you can focus on classes of activities. You won't get it right the first time. Rather, we are talking about a process that can be refined over time.

Individual vs Organisational Needs

An interesting thread in the current global debate on the future of training relevant to our current discussion is the potential conflict between individual and organisational needs. Many training and development professionals in particular argue that much training failed because it failed to meet the needs of individual participants in the training.

The real position is far more complex since, from our experience, there are three sets of needs that have to be taken into account if corporate training is to be effective:

  • theᅠneeds (objectives) of the organisation
  • the needs of the trainees' work area or areas
  • individual trainee needs.

The problem is that these needs can conflict. For example, an organisation wide program to upgrade general management or marketing skills may fail because of resistances at workplace and individual level. These conflicts need to be identified and managed as part of the overall training activity.

Of importance here is what we see as fundamental shift in developed countries in people's attitudes to work itself, a shift that has had a direct impact on individual approaches to training.
The end of life long employment together with constant corporate restructuring has forced individuals to change their attitudes to work. Whereas they were previously prepared to consider things that would aid their career within the individual organisation, people's focus has now shifted to things that will assist their career beyond the organisation.

This has had a significant impact on individual attitudes to training. People are simply less willing to do training unless there is a definable individual payback. Will it give me a marketable skill? How will it look on my CV? Will it build my network, give me new contacts? These changing attitudes need to be taken into account in the design of training activities.

Need for Realism

I suppose my starting point here has to be the need for realism. You are suddenly not going to turn all your professional staff including partners into effective on-the-job trainers. It's just not going to happen.

But you can aim to improve performance. Starting from the premise that a lot of professionals are just plain bad at the training element in jobs, a small absolute improvement may in fact represent a very large percentage increase! So how to do it?

Immediate Steps

Recognising that performance improvement takes time, I think that there are a few immediate things that you can do:

  • Start by looking at the existing skills and approaches of your more senior people. Do this along two dimensions, their existing approach to people management and development, their technical skills. From experience you are likely to find a range all the way from people who are keen on training and people management (some of these may well be hopeless at it) through to people with great professional competence but with poor people and communication skills.
  • Then look at existing staff demands for training. What does this tell you? Interestingly, my experience has been that there is a direct but inverse correlation between staff demand for training and the standard of management. That is, the worse the manager the more likely there is to be a staff demand for training!
  • Then think about where you think from a firm perspective the greatest needs are.

All this gives you a rough framework. Now at this point I would focus on those people who who have most to offer from your perspective if only you could tap and transfer their knowledge and skills more effectively. How might you do this?

This may sound paradoxical, but one simple device that I have found that works well with the highly competent but busy professional with poor people communications skills is the internal seminar on a topic of relevance to the firm and the professional.

Often these people have thought deeply about what they do at a professional level. Getting them to share some of this through short internal professional development seminars can be a very effective device. It can also build linkages between that professional and other firm members.

The second thing that I would look at is some form of structured but not necessarily formal mentoring program. Again, this has the advantage of establishing links between staff. The program needs to be structured so that those participating know clearly what is expected on both sides. At the same time, there can be real advantages in keeping it relatively informal.

With some firms, this type of program can be a way of tapping knowledge and expertise from senior people who are close to retirement or who may even have retired. This can have advantages on both sides. The senior person feels valued, the firm and the more junior staff member gains.

Integrating Appraisal Systems

In the longer term, training approaches need to be integrated with staff appraisal systems.
This is a large topic in its own right. At this stage, I would only make the point that one measure of an effective appraisal system should be its linkage with and input to the development of training approaches. If there is no linkage, I would query the value in that firm of both training and appraisal.

Performance Measurement

One common problem in professional services firms is the way in which performance measurement systems work against people management.

Yield on time is obviously critical in any professional services business. At the same time, you cannot expect people to put time into training - doing it or participating in it - if the only real perfuming measurement is billable hours. So if you are serious about training, you have to find some way of recognising it.

This finishes this shortᅠtraining primer. Comments are welcome.

Note on Copyright

The paper is copyright Ndarala 2006. However, it can be quoted, copied or reproduced with due acknowledgement. The following should be included for citation purposes. Jim Belshaw, "People Management in Professional Services, Ndarala Staff Paper, August 2006.