On Focus and Being the Elephant

There’s an old story about a group of blind men who touch different parts of an elephant. They’re all convinced they understand what the elephant is. But, of course, their understanding differs depending on whether they touch the trunk, tail, tusk or leg.

Sometime I think I’ve become the elephant. When I speak to folks about what I do (and especially when they read my blog), they often latch onto a part that relates to their own experience. It’s really nice when someone’s interested in what you do. But, as someone given to distraction, I’m often led astray. I think, “Wow, someone’s interested in that. I should pursue it.”
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Creating a Financial Reporting Project Charter

Organizations sometimes ask me to help them clean up a mess. Messes such as, “The numbers aren’t trustworthy,” “The close takes too long,” and “The software is ancient.”

Whatever the type of mess, when cleaning it up we often encounter the same challenges:

  • The folks you need to work with don’t trust you. People don’t like change. People don’t trust consultants in general. And most employees view the accounting department as a bunch of trolls.
  • There’s a ton of stuff to do. Problems that took years to create can’t be solved immediately.
  • Priorities are unclear. When there’s a ton of stuff to do, people think you’ve forgotten about what THEY think is most important—no matter where you start or how you proceed.

To address these challenges, I often create a one-page charter, or project overview, for new projects. The charter helps people grasp the key issues quickly, without having to flip through notes or talk to five different people.
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Five Key Changes—Why Didn’t I Do It Earlier?

In my
previous post, I discussed the five key changes I made in 2014. As I wrote about these changes, I had to ask myself why it took me so long to make them. I’ve always known that my business, while profitable, was a “freelancer on steroids” model. We had the classic freelancer problem: get a great gig, work like heck on it, panic and start marketing like crazy when the “gig is up” (as it were).

Well, maybe it wasn’t that bad. Thankfully, we’re not dependent on one client—we have a base of about 10-15 recurring clients. But for most of the past six years, one big client has regularly “made our year.” And because we’ve been dependent on that one big client, we’d often get dragged into different technologies. Or at least that’s what use to happen until I hit an emotional and physical wall this year. Which proves what I’ve always said: people only change when they’re in extreme pain.

So, why didn’t I change my ways sooner? Read more

Red Three Status Report – Five Key Changes to End the Year

Financially, 2014 was my best year ever. But it almost put me “over the edge” emotionally and physically.When the pain and exhaustion became too much, I finally got serious about narrowing the focus of the business.

Here are some of the changes my team and I’ve made over the past four months:

1. We cut the client list

I’ve talked a lot about focus (especially in this blog). But we really put that talk into action when we said goodbye to a client who gave us over $3 million of work over the last 10 years. Over the years, we did many major projects for these folks. During the last half of 2104—after a period of quiet—I was pulled back into a very active role. This role required not just my consulting expertise, but my detailed knowledge of everything that had happened in the financial system over the last seven years. This is knowledge I can’t leverage and can’t train someone else so. We helped them transition to another consultant.
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