Monkeys on our back

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A tribute to the never ending projects.

You know those projects that seem to never end. The projects that extend well past their anticipated delivery dates. The projects that can’t catch a break or that can’t find sustained momentum. These are the projects that become the monkeys on our backs.l-Monkey-on-your-back

My experience is probably not so different from yours. There are projects throughout my professional career that I can describe with words like unlucky, doomed, slow, or unsupported. This isn’t necessarily because people dislike the project objectives. But for whatever reason, these projects stick in the portfolio and start to carry a heavier weight to the team that is involved.

Why do some projects hit their scope, timeline, and budget while others flounder?

I wrestled with this question after a discussion this week about the “monkeys on my back”. Thinking through my project experiences, several common themes were present with projects that failed to meet the original expectations of the stakeholders:

  1. Underestimating the complexity – Team members and/or stakeholders underestimate the complexity required to complete a project. Software projects are prone to this issue if the project team underestimates the complexity of business process flows impacted by the software coding. It’s one thing to change code and make systems talk to each other. It’s another thing to consume the new changes and impact process flows of people and equipment.
  2. Shifting the priorities – When a “more important” project takes team members away from an existing project then momentum is lost and work effort is delayed.
  3. Staffing with the wrong people – Sometimes the wrong people are on the team to complete the job. This could be a skills gap for what is necessary to complete the requirements. But sometimes its about cultural fit between team members. Cultural is influenced by factors such as personalities, temperaments, and ideologies.

There isn’t a one-size-fits all answer to getting the monkey(s) off our back. But knowing why the monkey is there may help us to think of ways to get him off!

What are the origins of the phrase “Monkey on my back”?

I did some brief research and could not pinpoint the origin. If you know or find anything different on this let me know.

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The 1854 edition of the Glossary of Northamptonshire Words and Phrases contains this:

“MONKEY. ‘I’ve put your monkey up,’ is a phrase implying, I’ve roused your spirit, or offended you. ‘I’ve put up your back,’ is an equivalent, which see. A child is said to have the monkey on its back, when in ill humour, or out of temper.”

The 1874 edition of the The Slang Dictionary contains this:

“Monkey, spirit or ill temper; ‘to get one’s Monkey up,’ to rouse his passion. A man is said to have his Monkey up or the Monkey on his back, when he is ‘riled,’ or out of temper; this is old, and was probably in allusion originally to the evil spirit which was supposed to lie always present with a man; also under similar circumstances a man is said to have his back or hump up.”

There are other passages where the phrase is used as a reference to being in debt with a mortgage.

In more recent times the phrase is used to describe a heavy burden or even a drug addiction.

This much we do know.  We’d like to get those monkeys off our back. So take some time to think about why they are there. Then see if you can shake them loose.

Onward and upward!

I cut the cord on cable TV

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I cut the cord (cable TV).

Yes! Whoo hoo!Cut the Cord2

I’ve been thinking about this since 2009 when I first wrote about online alternatives  and mail order alternatives to TV.  I didn’t cut the cord back then because the alternatives for live TV were not compelling enough to replace live sports and didn’t present a strong enough case to get my family away from TV. Then last year we added a Roku stick to a couple of TVs and Netflix.  This week I added a subscription to Sling TV and validated a HD antenna could pull local TV stations.

Then the final event that I needed happened. My cable TV company sent me a letter that the “promotional pricing” from last year was ending and that my monthly bill would be $55 higher. They were increasing the price of the cable TV, Internet, and charging an additional monthly fee for a HD converter.  (I should note that the HD converter is required to have cable now but they also charge a monthly fee for it above the TV content cost).

The surprising part of all this.

When I called the cable company to cancel the TV service they did not try to retain my business.  I’ve done this in the past to see how they could help lower the overall cable bill. That’s when they put me on the promotional plan. But this week I told them I was ready to cancel because the availability of alternatives had reached a point that I could find content to watch easily and that it didn’t make sense to pay over $100/month for cable TV.

That was it. I’ve been paying this company for cable TV for 25 years. It ended with a 3 minute phone call.

The economics of it.

For basic cable TV and three HD converter boxes I would be paying about $110/month for what they call the basic package. In my current setup with Netflix, Sling, and MLB.tv I have a monthly outlay of about $40/month.

To be fair, I still have a few one-time costs to add because I will purchase a few more Roku boxes and do something to make the HD antenna signal available to more TVs.  But I like those numbers.

The better win.

The way we watch content on TV has changed. With cable TV, I was confined to a screen in a location of my house.  I was limited to watching programmed content that someone else chose for me. I could record a few shows and change the time if I wanted. I paid for hundreds of channels that I never watched.

The new model is streaming the content to a number of devices including PC, tablet, and a traditional television. I choose the stations I want to pay for and for the most part the content I want to see. If I don’t use a service, I can cancel at any time.  Additionally, much of the content I watch is streamed commercial free.  I can flex add and delete services as needed or as my viewing habits change. CBS and HBO are two examples of content providers offering monthly subscriptions. Expect to see more of that from other providers.

A great example of this new flexibility happened just this week. I am writing this post from a hotel room while on a business trip. I haven’t turned on the TV in my room. Instead, I was able to stream a baseball game for my team through mlb.tv to my computer. I could not watch that game from the TV in my room because it’s not local market. Then I was able watch a movie that I chose on my tablet.

We’ll see how this progresses over the next few months. But I bet, I’m not going back to traditional cable TV.

Onward and upward!

B2B eCommerce – It’s different

Some thoughts about B2B eCommerce.

B2B eCommerce has been part of my life since 1999 when I worked for the John Harland Company. At that time, I was on a team creating and deploying an internet site for bank employees to order checks for their customers. In the last fifteen years I have worked with both B2B and B2C sites and I can say that B2B sites are different. Business approach B2B differently. B2B development efforts focus on different aspects of eCommerce.

Much of B2B eCommerce focus is on functionality and features. The development teams often focus on the business workflows within the customer’s business as a way to add value. As a result, there is less focus on customer experience created by UI designs than a B2C site. There is less focus on metrics like conversion and bounce rates. When I product managed a B2B site I liked to ask, “how can we create a flow that reduces speed bumps and just enables the customer to complete the transaction they signed-on to complete?” In other words, let’s not trip the customer and just let them create a transaction. B2C sites like to create diversions in hopes that customers will add more items to the cart before completing check-out.

Andy Hoar of Forrester recently blogged that US B2B eCommerce is forecasted to reach $1.1 trillion dollars by 2020.  This is not surprising, because technology continues advance to put capabilities in the hands of those that purchase for businesses.

Hoar cites a couple of contributing reasons:

  1. Today 70% of B2B purchases are researched online but only 30% are purchased online. Forrester predicts that gap will shrink.
  2. The economics of electronic order fulfillment are better than manual orders. Businesses know that electronic orders reduce costs in order entry labor, phone support, and supplies. Not to mention electronic orders typically create faster fulfillment times for the customer. When I worked for Harland we called this idea “Channel Shift”. There was a metric each year to incrementally reduce manual orders by increasing electronic orders. We even knew the dollar amount of cost take-out associated with shifting 1% of orders to our eCommerce channels.

But wait. Other factors are at play that influence the number of B2B eCommerce orders.

As I think through my experience and challenges my teams have encountered with “channel shift” a couple of things jump out:

1. Custom orders – eCommerce sites are easier when the product set for a customer is SKU driven from a catalog. The workflow changes when customers are allowed to customize a product. As the number of customizable features grows so does the level of complexity.

But more than the technology challenge with custom products is the education and knowledge challenge with the product set.  Buyers on B2B eCommerce sites are not necessarily experts on the products they are purchasing. They rely on the research and the company representatives for this expertise.

2. Relationships – Much of the B2B commerce marketplace is built on relationships. A successful salesperson will add value to a relationship by bringing product expertise to the discussion with the customer. The successful salesperson will show the customer how the product can be used within the customer’s business to drive value.

Believe me, I want to enable and influence channel shift. But this is more than a technology puzzle. There are businesses processes, product attributes, and people relationships that are part of the equation. I haven’t found a set magic formula or one-size-fits all approach. What is clear is that businesses and customers are looking for ways to use technology to make their processes more efficient. With both sides looking for a solution, success is there for the taking.

Onward and upward!