Anti-Fragile Risk Management (ARM)

This is part two of my thoughts on Risk Management.  Part I, “Guns, Telephone Books and Risk” focused on the problem of creating long lists of things that will (may) never happen.

ISO 31000 to the Rescue!

Risk management (RM) has become standard fare for most organizations.  To support these efforts, in 2009 the International Standards Organization (ISO) issued ISO 31000 Risk management – Principles and guidelines.  A pretty good standard for the following reasons:

  1. Recognition that uncertainty (aka risk) has both positive and negative consequences.
  2. The impact of uncertainty is the inability to execute on organizational objectives.
  3. Risk is organization-centric based on its particular legal, societal, cultural, technical, ‘etc.-al‘ circumstances.
  4. RM is integral to an organization rather than an isolated activity.

ISO 31000 – The Same Problem

In ISO 31000 the steps are: 1) identifying risks, 2) Analyze the Risks, 3) Evaluate the Risks (these are all part of Risk Assessment, ISO step 5.4) and then finally 4) Treat the Risk (the right hand column of the following graphic).

ISO 31000 Framework Courtesy of the Victoria (Australia) State Government; SWER 2010.

Unfortunately this is where ISO 31000 fails; would it not be better to start with Risk Mitigation and then use the compendium of risks to test the organization’s ability to weather the uncertainties when they occur?  This ‘turned on its head‘ methodology is what I call ‘Anti-Fragile Risk Management‘ or ARM.

Anti-Fragile Risk Management (ARM)

In his book, ‘Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorder‘, Nicholas Taleb introduces the concept which can be summarized as follows:

Anti-fragility is a property of systems that increase in capability, resilience, or robustness as a result of stressors, shocks, volatility, noise, mistakes, faults, attacks, or failures. [Wikipedia]

Ecosystems and biological things (such as your bones or your heart) need continuous mild stress to stay healthy.  A sea wall is robust but ultimately each successive ocean wave incrementally destroys it; the wall is robust but ultimately fragile.  A tide pool colony needs each successive wave to bring in new nutrients, remove more feeble members and, yes, sometime even bring in destructive predators; it is anti-fragile.

In 2016 I introduced the idea of ‘Anti-fragile Strategic Planning‘ including suggesting that Taleb was a bit too absolute with his dismissal of art of planning.  ARM is effectively a continuation or an element of overall Anti-fragile Strategic Planning including having the following four attributes or maxims:

  1. Do No Harm: Makes the organization no worse off than as if no RM activities had occurred.
    1. This includes ensuring that the RM process has delivered value for money.
    2. Like insurance, this may be difficult to quantify other than convincing senior leadership of the value of piece of mind.
  2. Core Competencies: Ensures the organization is getting better at its core business(es).  Conversely, the organization is shedding businesses that they should no longer be involved in.
    1. This is well articulated initially in ISO 31000 but then quickly seems to get lost as the standard moves into designing a RM framework and process.
    2. Are we in the right business or do we continue to provide these services to our citizens given their costs are the ultimate RM questions.
  3. Creating a Sustainable Organization: Describes the known-known changes facing the organization and ensures it has the capacity to weather all but large-scale unpredictable and irregular (Black Swan) events.
    1. This places risk mitigation at the forefront.  The organization will need to manage risks it likely can not predicted.  Its robustness and resiliency allows it to absorb or exploit events.
    2. A risk list (telephone book’esque or otherwise) provides an excellent training/ testing tool to assist an organization to develop change-muscle-memory.
  4. Balanced Scorecard: Identifies long-term outcomes, implementation plans to achieve these outcomes and short-term milestones to monitor their execution – but only after the above maxims have been satisfied.
    1. One critical metric is the scorecard is the measured and perceived ‘robustness and resiliency’ of the organization.
    2. Scorecards and strategic plans inherently make the organization Anti-fragile. Nevertheless an organization needs some direction and operational/tactical planning.
    3. The previous 3 maxims will allow the organization to quickly shed and change scorecard entries as changes in fortune dictates.

ARM Overview

At this point you may be scratching your head wondering how you can treat a risk if you don’t know what it is?  The answer is that most risk an organization faces is already being treated without its explicit identification.  Your web presence is constantly being tested by hackers, your employees handling cash or cutting purchase orders always have an ever so slight temptation to line their pockets.  The launch of your next product line (or continuation of an existing service/product) is also fraught with unknowns.

Perhaps you hire white hats to test your web security, have good segregation of duties to manage fraud or you have completed a formal risk assessment before introducing a line of children lawn darts.  More than likely many of the risks are mitigated through trust worthy people, good training, systems, operational procedures, planning and good old fashion luck.  These and a myriad of other things are an organization’s response to risks and they make an organization more (or in their absence) less robust, resilient and risk proof.

ARM is that simple.  It is the listing of the implicit and explicit things an organization does to exploit/manage uncertainty (risk).  This robustness/resiliency is then periodically tested through a formal RM program.

An ARMed ISO 31000

ARM and ISO 31000 are entirely compatible even if ARM slightly adjusts the sequences of risk steps.  Section 4, Framework, in ISO 31000:2009 Principles and Guidelines includes component ‘4.3.4 Integration into organizational processes’ with the following attributes or advise for creating a risk management program in an organization:

  • Risk management should be embedded in all the organization’s practices and processes in a way that it is relevant, effective and efficient.
  • The risk management process should become part of, and not separate from,
    those organizational processes.
  • In particular, risk management should be embedded into the policy development, business and strategic planning and review, and change management processes.
  • There should be an organization-wide risk management plan to ensure that the risk management policy is implemented and that risk management is embedded in all of the organization’s practices and processes.
  • The risk management plan can be integrated into other organizational plans, such as a strategic plan.

Seven ARMed Organization and the Next Blog

The good news is that rather than running a RM program in isolation ARM is integral to the organization.  The bad news is that it takes work to integrate anti-fragile behaviour so as to be robust or resilient.  Integration involves the following seven steps:

  1. Purpose: Why Does the Organization Exist, what are its objectives?
  2. People: Does the Organization have adeptness to achieve its objectives?
  3. Process & Plant: Do the People have the right Operational knowledge to operate the systems they are responsible for?
  4. Product: Does the organization have a product or service that the market/society wants?
  5. Planning: Does the organization know how to do Operational and Tactical Planning to sustain or enhance the above?
  6. Governance: Does the organization have the strategic and leadership capacity to Change the Above?
  7. Risk Tested: What identified risks can be used to test the above to ensure they are functioning?

Each of the seven steps will be discussed in future blogs in greater detail.

Guns, Telephone Books and Risk?

At work I have been given the task of implementing a risk management strategy for an IT department.  The problem is that I am not convinced that Risk Management adds much value to organizations.  To be clear, I am all for pondering and evaluating risks when making decisions.  After all, if you are currently an adult, you are likely an expert on Risk Management having survived your childhood or possibly that first year of college (just saying).

Gun Shy of Risk Management

My point is that I am not a huge fan of is the Risk Management process.  I have worked for a few organizations in which Risk Management became a bit of a fad and organizational resources were poured into a very comprehensive list of risks.  The list was a fascinating read and many could have been the basis for either a cheap thriller or space-cowboy science fiction book.  Generally though, these lists were a compendium of obvious things covered by a few good operational plans or a comprehensive list of things that in all likelihood would never come to pass.

Once these telephone book’esque lists of risks were compiled, they were dumped on some poor unsuspecting line manager.  Called the risk owner, this poor sod now had to develop a treatise on how he or she would react to a cornucopia of risks.   The smart manager would generally set the telephone-book of risks to one side and get on with their day job… hoping the Risk Management fad had passed before they were asked for their response.

Audit Fodder

Of course auditors love risk management.  If auditors can’t find something juicy in the operations of an organization they know they can always get an observation or recommendation from criticizing the risk management process.  This is because no list of risks is ever complete; there can always be one more entry added.  The auditor can also examine the events affecting an organization over the past year.  In all likelihood an untoward event that occurred was not precisely described in the telephone book.  At this point the auditor shouts with glee: ‘AH-HA, your risk management process is flawed, pour more resources into it so I can make more observations next year! BRUHAHAH.. Cough, sputter…

Why is Risk Management so Hard?

Okay, I am being a bit harsh on auditors (some of my best friends are recovering auditors). So why is risk management so hard and why does it add so little value?  I have a few thoughts on why Risk Lists is an enumeration things that will never occur:

  • Identification is Mitigation:
    • Simply identifying a risk can help to mitigated the risk.
    • In economics this is known as the efficient information model meaning the organization has internalized and corrected for the risk – good Risk Management in action!
    • Example: cash controls are deemed a risk and internal controls are beefed up such that theft or fraud are no longer likely risks.
  • Easter Egg Effect
    • This effect states that if you tell a person that there are ‘X’ number of things, they will stop looking once they find that number.
    • In the same way, an organization may look at an ever growing list of risks and at some point say ‘that is good enough’.
    • As a result, an organization may have a beefy telephone book of lists which have low likelihood or occurance or of poor predictive power .
  • Post-Diction Focus:
    • Nicholas Taleb [see further reading section below] introduced the concept of ‘post-diction’ which is a play on the concept of prediction.
    • The ability to predict the occurrence of a past event improves after the event has occurred.  Post-diction is the certainty an individual or organization did in fact PREDICT something in retrospect.
    • This gives the organization an impression that it has better predictive powers than it really does have.
  • The Past as a Guide to the Future:
    • While one does not want to be doomed to repeat past mistakes by not reading history, the reality is that the past has only limited predictive power.
    • Certainly there are themes from the past that are enduring and can be used in the future.
    • Examples:
      • Given opportunity, even the most honest person may be tempted to steal if they believe the chances of being caught is nominal.
      • Eventually your organization will be hacked, cyber-ransomed or be a victim of a denial of service act if you have an online presence.
  • Social Blindness:
    • Risk identification can be politically or social driven/influenced.
    • Thus a risk may be ignored because of organizational desire to align with social norms.
    • In early September 2001, an organization renting real estate in the New York Trade Center would be disinclined to consider listing a catastrophic attack by Islamic extremists as a potential risk so as to not be accused of being Islamophobes.
  • Black Swan Events
    • Returning to Taleb, the risks that will have the greatest impact on your organization are by definition unpredictable.
    • Called Black Swans, they have are a positive or negative significant event that creates enormous upheaval in an eco-system.  Think of a comet striking the earth or the 2008 financial melt down.
      • Events that are extreme, unknown and very improbable (according to our current knowledge)”; adapted from p.xxvii, The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, 2007.

Can Risk Management Be Value Added?

In general, can Risk Management add value?  Absolutely, evaluating risk is an inherent human trait; we are constantly calculating and estimating risk to our advantage. The fact that we are here shows its evolutionary success.

However, for organizations, I am proposing a strategy called ‘Anti-Fragile Risk Management‘ or ARM.  This concept builds on the ideas in my 2016 article, Anti-fragile Strategic Planning and builds on ISO 31000 – Risk Management.

Further Reading:

  1. Anti-fragile Strategic Planning, FMI Journal January 2016; Frank Potter.
  2. Managing Risks: A New Framework, HBR June 2012; Robert S. Kaplan, Anette Mikes.

 

CPA – Public Sector Certificate Program Level I

I just finished the first part of the CPA’s public sector certificate program.  This blog is to put down some notes and thoughts on the course and also a suggestion for CPA Alberta/Canada about what next to do with this program.

Certificate of Completion

Kudos to FMI and CPA for a Focus on the Public Sector

Thank you to CPA Canada and their partner, the Financial Management Institute (FMI) for developing this program.  I can’t say that I have done an exhaustive search but I am pretty sure that this course is unique in Canada for discussing how the public sector differs from our private sector peers.  As well, a good portion of the course focuses on Canadian Public Sector Accounting Standards (PSAB – the B standards for Board).

To be honest, I have kind of missed out studying PSAB.  The standards were not part of my training twenty years ago (and they have come a long way during this time anyway). Being a ‘budget-guy’ I had a transient need to know the standards.  Thanks to this course, I have a better understanding of what they are and that they are actually pretty good.  By way of overall content, the course offered the following topics:

  • Module 1: Governance and decision-making processes (budgets, legislature, etc.)
  • Module 2: The public sector planning and budgeting process.
  • Module 3: Government operating and capital budgets.
  • Module 4: public sector accounting standards including dives into:
    • Concepts & Principles (1000 —1300)
    • Financial Reporting (2100 —2700)
    • Financial statement items (3030 —3510)
    • Not-For-Profit Organization Accounting (PS 42**)
    • PSAB Statement of Recommend Practice.
  • Module 5: Decision Support
  • Module 6: Auditing.

Modules 1-4 were pretty good, Module 5 very weak and Module 6 was a bit of strange. It seemed to be cobbled together or directly lifted from another program.  To support the above modules, the course referenced a number of real life examples and some pretty good reference material.  Unfortunately the material was a bit stale (generally 2+ years old or older) and as such could use a refresh.

A final kudo is the software that CPA Canada used for this course.  Called Brightspace, it is a learning management system from Desire to Learn (D2L) a Canadian company out of Kitchener Ontario.  Brightspace was clean, intuitive and easy to navigate.  I did my MBA online (through Athabasca) using the then state of the art Lotus Notes, D2L is definitely a step in the right direction.

Needs Work Though

Although I thought the course was a good use of my time, I personally think that it needs work.  The following are some suggestions for CPA for its next course re-write:

  1. What Learning Gap is Being Addressed: This is a post-designation course and as such I was expecting material aimed at someone working in the public sector. Instead, the course went down a few rabbit holes such as calculating current ratio. As a result, I think CPA needs to better analyze and think about the target audience and their educational needs of those taking this course.
  2. Hire an Editor.  I suspect that portions of this course were mashed together from a variety of sources.  In fact the last module (#6) did not even bother to change the original audience in the content.  This course is important enough to have hired an editor and is pricey enough ($1K CAD) to have expected one.
  3. Refresh the Content.  For a new course, it references a good number of circa 2012 era materials.  As well, the Value for Money section of Module 6 uses a now withdrawn document but does not even mention PS 5400 and 6410 assurance standards on Value for Money audits.  For a new program I would have expected at least circa 2015 material.
  4. Have some Interaction.  One of the reasons I signed up for this program was because it had some high-flying contributors.  I saw neither hide nor hair of them. I did notice later on (after I had abandoned the discussion board) that the a newly hired moderator was making an valiant effort to encourage group discussions.
  5. More than Traditional Accounting.  The course covered a variety of topics at a cursory level such as budgeting, costing and the audit function.  The course could easily expand into other common facets of the public sector experience.  For example, how to brief and interact with the political level; the challenges of systems in the public sector and how about a bit on the weird world of public sector procurement.

Worthy of a Core Module?

Notwithstanding some of the above tweaks and enhancements, I believe this course (or its improved successor) should be at least an elective if not potentially a core module in the PEP program.  For those unfamiliar with the training to become a CPA, individuals must complete electives and core modules in such traditional areas as financial reporting, tax, audit or management accounting as part of CPA’s Professional Education Program or PEP.

CPA Alberta Professional Education Program (PEP)

I would not recommend that the existing course be either as it really needs some work and lots more relevant content while jettisoning the audit and financial performance elements which are covered in other PEP modules.  In addition, I would expand the dive into PSAB and likely include something like a mentorship program with seasoned accountants who live and breath PSAB.

To this last point, the course could be delivered using interaction with local governments.  I know here in Edmonton, students taking this module could also meet with the provincial controller, municipal CFOs or senior financial managers from the federal level.

Next Steps

I plan to reach out to CPA Alberta to see if they would be interested in running a pilot elective with this course as the basis.  I have some thoughts on additional content I would add but there is definitely a good starting point.  Once again, kudos to CPA Canada for taking some initial steps in helping accountants who have chosen the public sector path.

At the end of the day, 40 good hours of professional development and I now have information and resources I did not have before starting this course… the sign of a worthwhile use of ones time!

Writing as a Team Sport – Wikies and Helpers

I have been able to call upon friends and colleagues to help me craft articles:

In all of these cases, the contributors provided me with excellent advice and the resulting articles were much better as a result.  This article is no exception: SharePoint as a Documentation Tool; Life Beyond the “Big Honkin’ Binder”.

Thank you (AGAIN in some cases) for the Use of Your Brain

Of course no good deed ever goes unpunished and to that end, the following are the folks who have helped me with the friendly-peer-review.  Hopefully I can return the favor in the future.  Also, if you are on the list and are logging this as professional development, feel free to refer to this post and notice below.

Person

Organization

Chad B. Government of Alberta
Eric S. Government of Alberta
Howard T. Government of Alberta
Mavin K. Government of Alberta
Mona E. Self Employed
Paul B. Government of Alberta
Terry E. Retired
Uday D. United Nations

To whom it may concern, the above individuals were asked to perform a friendly-peer review of an article (2017 – Life Beyond the “Big Honkin’ Binder” published in the Financial Management Institute of Canada January, 2017, FMI*IGF eJournal. The estimated time to perform this review was between 2 to 3 hours completed in early September, 2016. All of the above individuals demonstrated a firm grasp of the subject matter and helped to create-net-new original thought and critique through this peer-review which will be reflected in the final article. 

Can We Monetizing Government Services?

On November 7, I attended a session put on by the Canadian Institute called “Government Connects“. All levels of government spoke about digital transformation of their services.  One of the speakers was the boss of all Alberta Public Servants, Marcia Nelson.  Marcia did a great job discussing what the Government of Alberta is doing in moving its services online.  Certainly Digital Government is the nirvana for most governments as they see cyberspace as being a cheaper, faster and more effective way to deliver more services to citizens.

The User as the Product

Marcia, and many of the speakers, talked about the expectations of citizens relative to their other digital experiences.  For example the ease to create a Facebook account, the functionality available via a GMail account or how a LinkedIn profile is now almost as important as a resume or a business card.  The question from Marcia, and others was ‘how can governments compete with these products?‘.

The other side of these services is a profit motive.  Facebook makes it easy to set up a profile so it can target you with advertisements. Gmail wants you as an email client so it can scan your email and target its advertisement.  LinkedIn wants you to buy a premium membership or at least get your eyeballs on its advertisements.  All of the above are examples of monetizing you as a user into becoming their product.  Assuming informed consent, there is nothing wrong with monetization.  It is an economic transaction in which a slice of your privacy is exchanged for some really good services (like watching cat videos on Facebook just saying).

The Digital Government Disadvantage

So where does government fit into this?  Firstly there is the challenge of resources.  A quick scan of the September 2016 quarterly results of Facebook shows they have about $10.6USD Billion in physical and intangible assets*.  Included in this number is $5.1USD Billion of network and computer software assets (physical) in addition to $1.7USD Billion in technologies and patents (intangible).  In other words, Facebook has excellent technical infrastructure to offer a premium product for free to users.  And if they don’t have a good product now, their $30.3USD Billion in current assets (e.g. cash, securities, etc.) can be used to buy that good product.

* Note, for those accounting weenies out there, an interesting item they have on their balance sheet is ‘Acquired users’.  I could not readily find a definition for this term but it appears that the users are really the Product!

Pity someone like the Government of Alberta (GoA).  A $50 billion a year organization in which an estimated 2.5%, over $1 billion, is spent annually on Information Management and Technology (IMT) (adapted from: GoA IMT Plan, 2016 – 2021, p. 4). From the GoA’s most recent financial statements, they have $4.4CAD Billion (about $3USD Billion) of computer assets – hey not bad – of which 78% of is fully depreciated (e.g. over 5 years old) – YIKES! (adapted from GoA 2015-16 Financial Statements, p. 63).

Beyond relying on old technology, the GoA has to do a lot more than Facebook.  While Facebook can focus on social media, the GoA needs to run registry systems (e.g. vital statistics, land titles or drivers licenses), health systems (e.g. immunization, medical records), education (K-12, student finance, apprenticeship certificates), business (collect taxes/royalties/fines) and human social functions (tracking children in foster care, seniors or homelessness).

The above is not a new story but it is worth repeating every now and then that governments do things that no one else wants to with a tiny fraction of the resources of private industry.  Governments must also build and run systems that have almost no tolerance for failure.

Risk and Skin in the Game

To the last point, risk, this is where government is at a further disadvantage.  The original investors in FaceBook backed a winner.  Those who put money in to Myspace, Friendster or DIGG did not fare so well (huh, never heard of some of these, check out the grave yard of failed social media infographic from the Search Engine Journal January 25, 2013).  Nicholas Taleb calls investors (win or lose) people with ‘Skin in the Game‘ from his book Anti-Fragile.  In contrast, public servants never have skin in the game.  We are always spending other people’s money and our fantastically worst case for abject failure is forced retirement or perhaps being fired – maybe.

In other words, governments have both an advantage and disadvantage around risk. The individuals involved do not have personal risk (advantage) but the organizations also lack the mind focusing benefit of the ‘terror of failure’ (disadvantage).

The Monetization Continuum and How Can Governments ‘Compete’

The reality is that Governments can’t and shouldn’t compete with the Facebook’s of the world.  Creating a bleeding edge user experience would be an inexcusable use of public funds and without the terror of failure would not likely be successful anyway.

But because thought exercises can lead to innovation, I am proposing the ‘Monetization Continuum‘ for governments; a government simply needs to pick a point on a line.  At one end (generally status quo) is ‘Mind and Accept the Gap‘ at the other is ‘Full Monetization‘ with other options falling between these two.  Definitions are provided below as well as way points but generally if you are Singapore you may be more comfortable having McDonald’s ads on your obesity website.  If you are at the other extreme – well this is where Minding the Gap comes in.

Monetization Continuum

End Points Definition Examples
Mind and Accept the Gap Governments acknowledge that they will lag and explain why to their citizens. Periodically, governments leap-frog into a stronger position. Status Quo
Monetize Fund digital government through ad, premium memberships or sponsorship revenue.

Premium services could even be tax-deductible!

Faster border crossing via Nexus.

On the Subject of Not Likely

The reality is that governments will and should never monetize their services.  There is a slippery slope of what is reasonable and in good taste.  Governments have something that Facebook or Google does not have – the coercive powers of taxation and legislation. Perhaps governments does not need to build systems when they can force organizations operating in its jurisdictions to offer the services.  There is a long tradition of this in the telecommunications world, for example.  This would not be monetizing users as products, this would monetizing providers as servants for the public good.  Just a thought.

Accounting for Questions

On November 17, 2016, FMI Edmonton hosted: CPAs and the Public Service.  Now that CPA Alberta is almost a toddler (16+ months old at time of writing), it is time to ask the question: How Can CPA Alberta help the members who work in the public service?

The problem though is how do you get 118 attendees to agree on which questions are most important?  Traditionally you could open up the floor to questions but then the most brave and most opinionated tend to dominate.  You could ask the presenters to provide an overview, and this was done in the first part of the session, but this also eliminates the audience participation.  The (facilitation) answer: Questions a la Carte!

Got Questions?

The origin for Question a la Carte was the September 2016 Edmonton-FMI Conference on Innovation, where I experimented with ‘Innovation Bingo‘.  This facilitation activity promoted audience attention and participation.  With Questions a la carte, my intention was to take it to the next level.

How It Worked

The morning was reasonably interactive; the audience voted on and select the most pressing questions of interest to the conference attendees by following instructions provided in the Annex.  The questions were thematically broken into chronological categories, in this case a CPA’s life journey starting with their training, work, professional development and ending with life after a career (see the table below).

How: Question Solicitation

Additional questions, question removal or edits were solicited but other than the ones I dreamed up or were contributed by CPA Alberta (thanks Larry!), none were forthcoming. Notwithstanding these results, non-accountants were encouraged to contribute questions to challenge the CPAs at the conference with hard-hitting questions to make the attendees squirm a little bit (in a nice and respectful squirming sort of way of course).

How: Instructions and Reinforcement

The questions were distributed in the pre-conference notes as well as given to each attendees in hard copy along with six small dots.  Additional table dots were distributed for a table to decide together how to apply.

Instructions were provided to the audience on at least six different occasions (a 3 minute overview at the beginning of the conference, reinforced by the key-note speaker and then multiple times by the moderator and presenters).

How: Reinforcement and Reward

Encouraging attendees to vote was accomplished by having their hardcopy stamped after applying their dots.  A stamped page not only made the eligible for door prizes (material reinforcement) by also provided an at-table reinforcement of ‘did you get your page stamped?’ (social or group cohesion reinforcement).

How: Presenter Privilege

Presenters and panelist were given the privilege to identify questions of greatest interest to them.  A colour name tag essentially allowed them to jump the queue and get their question answered irrespective of the group interest in it.

How: Questions and Their Categorization

Question package provided to attendees: 2016-11-17-questions.

Section Description Comments/Notes
Starters Questions relating to how to become or train the next generation of CPAs.  Training CPAs is a larger area of interest post merger.
Salad (Days) Personal; The role an accounting designation has had and/or how the merger will change this. We did not explore these enough.
Entree Strategy and Governance; How can CPAs make better decisions to guide our organizations. This was a core area for the conference.
Entree Standards; Questions relating to how accounting standards guide, serve and constrain us as CPAs. Accounting standards is central to the accounting function
The Kitchen Systems and Process; How CPA Alberta and the CPA community can deliver public services faster and better. Limited number of questions were provided and an area of expansion in the future.
New Recipes Keeping Up; Professional Development (PD) and continuous learning as a CPA. PD is always an area of interest for CPAs.
Digestifs Life after the Public Service; Alumni related questions.  This may be due to retirement or departure from the public service organization. A subject area worth of additional exploration, see November 14, 2014 FMI Conference notes.
Dessert Just for Fun; Don’t waste your dots on these question, but see if you can answer them nevertheless.

What Worked and What to Work On?

What: Response Rate

Worked: Generally the Questions a la Carte worked very well.  Of the approximately 600 dots distributed (5 per person), 365 were applied (for a response rate of more than 50%). Most of the attendees understood what was requested as there were very few process questions on what to do or why we are doing it.

Analysis and Ranking of Voted Questions: 2016-11-17-questions_rank.

What: Questions Analysis

Of the 30 questions asked, the average number of votes for each was 12 with a median of 7 votes.   The top question three questions each received approximately 10% of the total votes and each were from distinct categories or themes.  In other words there was relatively wide-spread interest in most of the questions nor did the presenter-privilege seem to indicate a selection bias amongst the audience.

As a result, I would suggest with some improvements, the Question a la Carte method can be a statistically viable method of measuring small group opinion and preferences for a specific issue.

What: Just for Fun and Table Dots

The intent of the Just for Fun questions was to provide an ice breaker.  Because the conference did not focus on these questions this was a missed opportunity. Similar with the Table Dots, the conference did not sufficiently focus on the use of these dots and as a result missed an opportunity for to increase group participation and an improved sense of the ‘event’.

What: Change:

  1. Improved Statistical Analysis: I would record the participation rate more precisely, for example by providing a numbered mail label applied to the pages.  In addition, I would do a better job of estimating acknowledged non-responsive records (e.g. I did not vote nor did the key-note speaker).  Finally, I would place the posters in an area with more physical space as the back wall proved to be intimate but very crowded (and perhaps a bit of a safety concern).
  2. Virtual Dots: Rather than physical dots, digital dots or an online response could have been developed.  My inclination is not to do this as the tactile reinforcement outweighs the minor improvements in administrative processing.  However, if the group was two or three times the size (e.g. an audience of say 300+) then more automated data gathering would make sense
  3. Just for Fun: I will likely drop this element or else make it a stronger part of the key-note speakers ice breaker activities.
  4. Table Dots: I will highlight this more strongly next time including giving specific time to the tables to come to a consensus and have the moderator reinforce group behaviour.
  5. Physical Space: I will provide at least a 3 metre pathway around the sheets and perhaps also use larger dots to increase the visible impact.  This may include having the dots in the meal area and then making an ‘ceremony’ of carrying it in so as to increase the group ownership and affiliation with the voting process.

A Blog Annex – How to Play Questions a la carte

Going out to eat helps to build bridges and create a sense of community in a group.  In addition to a good breakfast, you are invited to participate in ‘CPA Questions a la Carte’. How does it work, simple – you get to pick the questions that our panel will consider.  To do this, you will have been given some personal dots. Simply place one or more dots next to a question you would like addressed.  Don’t see a question, no problem, order it online via Sli.do (see page 8 for instructions).  In addition to personal dots, each table will receive group dots.  Prior to the end of the mid-morning break, discuss at your table how best to divide these up amongst the questions.  For example, you could have one person stick all of the table-dots on their card or you could divide them up evenly at your table.

To make sure the kitchen (e.g. the panel) gets your order, go to the back of the conference room.  There a master menu will tally up the various dot-votes.  A CPA server will stamp your order, with this stamp you are now eligible for some great door prizes at the end of the session.

 

A Ruling on 80, 90 and 99

Heuristics or rules of thumb are of great benefit in formulating approximations and quick decisions.  They can just as easily lead one astray through over simplification.  In thinking about heuristics as they apply to organizations, I have been pondering three: the 80/20 Rule, the 90 Rule, and the 99 Rule.

The 80/20 Rule or Pareto Principle

The Pareto Principle is a heuristic that estimates cause and effect, it is defined as:

Also known as the 80/20 rule, the law of the vital few, or the principle of factor sparsity; states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.  Named after Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto (adapted from wikipedia).

While the Pareto Principle has reasonably good statistic evidence of its validity in estimating cause and effect, it does not do so well in predicting effort.  In other words, 20% of your future actions will yield 80% of the future value.  Which of the four out of five things will you do that will have no or limited impact on the 80%?

The 90 Rule

This rule is based on the observation of contributions to social media sites.

In Internet culture, the 1% rule is a rule of thumb pertaining to participation in an internet community, stating that only 1% of the users of a website actively create new content, while the other 99% of the participants only lurk (adapted from Wikipedia). 

It may seem strange to invoke an internet rule but compare this to an organizational structure. What is the relative proportion of shop floor workers to middle to senior managers?  Typically there is about a 1:10 ratio of doers versus managers.

Consider an organization of 1,000 people; a reasonable sized government ministry or medium-sized enterprise.  Within such an organization, there would be about 10 senior leaders (Assistant/Deputy Ministers, CEOs, Vice Presidents), 90 middle level managers (Directors, Managers, Assistant Managers) and 900 shop floor staff and immediate supervisors (clerks, sales people, workers, supervisors, etc.).

In other words the 90 rule is a reasonable heuristic to predict the allocation of resources and effort.  1% or the allocated resources will have a disproportionate effect on the next 9% which in turns controls or influences the final 90% of an organization.

The 99/0.9/0.1 Rule

A more lean view of the 90 rule is that 99 rule.  The 90 rule is accurate in the allocation of operational resources but I believe underestimates the effect of more strategic or exceptional events.  The CEO’s decision to close an unprofitable factory is not made by 10 people in the above fictional organization, but instead by 1 person.  Certainly the other 9 people support and (hopefully) validate the decision but the impact is then disproportionate to the remaining 990 individuals in an organization.

The 99 rule is a better tool to estimate strategic decisions within an organization.

Recap of the Rules

  • Pareto: 20% of an organization’s actions account for 80% of its results.
  • 90 Rule: 1% of the operational decisions are enacted by 9% of the organization affecting the remaining 90%.
  • 99 Rule: 0.1% of the strategic decisions are enacted by 0.9% of the organization which impacts the remaining 99%.

What are your thoughts?  Are the above heuristics reasonable and  valuable tool when allocating organizational resources?  Is there too much variability and the rules are a meaningless average?  Do you have any anecdotal experience with any of the above rules in either their cause or effect?

Monetizing Being a Public Servant

Early season snow storms are dangerous things.  Not only for driving but also when you take a long walk and your brain slips into thought experiments.  For example, when you are walking along and your brain says – hey you could potentially retire in a few years and do something outside the public service where you currently work.

In other words the snow and my brain conspired to ponder the question, ‘How do you monetize your career as a public servant?’.

Monetizing the Problem

First a definition, what is monetization? There are a swack of definitions but they all generally boil down to trying to convert something to ready cash. The following extract from Wikipedia’s definition provides a good example:

… attempting to make money on goods or services that were previously unprofitable or had been considered to have the potential to earn profits.

So, what exactly are we monetizing in this context? How to have a career post public service that commands a similar level of pay, respect and respect. Not to put too fine of a point on it, but public servants have a (not)/justifiable reputation of being unemployable post government.

The Obvious Methods

So, after a career of say 25, 30 or more years, how do you convert that experience into a second career or even part-time income?  The obvious answers that came to me include:

  1. Maximize a Public Sector Pension and/or Semi-Retirement
  2. Gain Unique Experience of Value to Someone
  3. Retire from a Senior Position that has Cache and Contacts
  4. Keep Your Toe in the Real World

Maximize a Public Sector Pension and/or Semi-Retirement

This is the most obvious method is that you enjoy the government backed annuity otherwise known as a public sector pension.  Sure, maybe you will do some greeting at Wal-Mart or try to convert a hobby into a paying proposition – but generally you don’t monetize the experience.

There is of course a cliché here that public servants have gold-plated pensions and to certain extent it is true (to learn more about this subject, see the post-conference notes on public sector retirement by the FMI).  The other side of this cliché of course is the lack of stock options, bonus and other non-monetary factors related to be a public servant.  Nevertheless, a thirty-five year pension is a pretty sweet bit of monetization!

Gain Unique Experience of Value to Someone

The fellow who spent his career as a spot-mountain-frog-lip-taster-technician may discover that he has a very unique skill set.  Governments do things that business and organizations don’t so this is definitely a consideration for monetization – assuming there is a market for the specialization – and there is the rub.  No other organization may want to pay for (thus monetize) frog-lip-tasting.  However there are some less obvious examples of converting experience into post-retirement careers.

If you work in an administrative function, likely the experience can be monetized – to a point.  A human resource consultant, accounting clerk or procurement specialist can find (if they want) post-retirement employment.  Unfortunately, the more senior the public sector experience the less likely of making a lateral leap.  As an accountant, I have managed to avoid dealing with taxes, shareholder accounting and the like because I have focused on budgets, systems and governance.  As a result, most controller roles are closed to me because I lack this basic for-profit experience.  The same examples can be made for other administrative functions in human resources, procurement, etc.

Retire from a Senior Position that has Cache

Retiring as a Deputy Minister or City Manager may open up future opportunities.  Think of the senior politicians, for example, who have gone back into law firms or think tanks.  Alas often the value you can bring to an organization are the contacts and systems knowledge of the recently departed government.  This knowledge is perishable in the extreme, particularly if there is a subsequent change in government or significant re-organization.

Mandatory cooling off periods may further diminish the relative value of recent experience if one needs to wait six to twenty-four months before cashing in.  Nevertheless, if you got to be a senior civil servant, you probably have skills of value beyond a government context.

Keep Your Toe in the Real World

One method of ensuring the ability to work in the real world post public service is to not really ever leave it.  A toe in may range from owning real estate property, working part-time (e.g. doing taxes if you are an accountant) or teaching courses.  In this way you have non-government experience to point to.  A further upside is having additional income of doing some or all of these things.  A downside is working more than one job during your career.

Monetization May Mean More than Money

If you are willing to stretch the definition of monetization, there is more to life than a second (third, fourth or fifth) career.  You can also use your experience in a volunteer capacity helping our or other societies.  For example Canadian Executive Services Overseas takes retired executives and places them globally and here at home (e.g helping first nation communities).  Churches, non-profit boards and community leagues are other potential beneficiaries of a life time in the service of the public.

Not all of these will pay the bills if one’s pension is not fully maximized.  However if money is not a primary driver (hey, you did take a government job after all), then you may be paid in post-retirement experiences!

Thank you snow storm for helping me clear my thoughts whilst walking… now back to work because I am not quite at the point of being able to start monetizing….

Cash is King but Flow is the Empress

David Trahair writes on financial matters and provides a very welcome Canadian point of view on retirement and investment considerations.  In his 2012 book: Cash Cows, Pigs and Jackpots; The Simplest Personal Finance Strategy Ever he provides both financial advice and some self-help to boot!

The central theme running through this book is the importance of positive cash flow (Cash Cows) versus negative flow (Cash Pigs).  Trahair also goes into a few pleasant surprises such as lottery winning as a retirement strategy (Jackpots).

Pig Tied to a Stake; Frederick George Richard Roth; Metropolitan Museum of Art: #06.404

Keep your Cash Pigs under control. Pig Tied to a Stake; Frederick George Richard Roth; Metropolitan Museum of Art: #06.404

On the one hand, much of what is in this book you may have read elsewhere in similar financial and investement books.  On the other hand, he does a good job of combining a number of different threads together including why happiness should be a high on your list of wealth

Happiness as an Investment Strategy

Trahair references the science of happiness, for example, you have a happiness set point.  50% of your happiness is pre-determined by both your genetics and your early up bringing.  The other 50% is split 10/40 between external circumstances (e.g. job, new things; 10%) and intentional activities (e.g. things you choose to do such as physical activity, 40%).

Huh? What the heck does happiness have to do with my investment strategy?

The answer is, be careful that you are not trying to buy things that are free.  If you had an unhappy working career there is every chance you will have a miserable retirement. Figure out how you can be happy and then plan the money around it.  You may discover that you need less treasure then you originally thought!

Before leaving this theme, Trahair references a movie and a book that I will need to track down and read on the subject of happiness:

  •  ‘Happy‘; a documentary on happiness by Roko Belic; and
  • Happy for No Reason‘; a book on the same subject by Marci Shimoff.

Some Old (But Still Very Good) Advice

Trahair revisits advice given by other financial sages such as David Chilton, the Wealthy Barber including these timeless gems:

  • Record your expenses, doing so will help you understand where your money goes.
  • Avoid bad debt, e.g. debt to purchase non-enduring assets such as vacations, electronics or meals (Bad debt = Cash Pig).
  • Avoiding debt is easier by living within your means.
  • Living within your means includes owing less house than what the bank says you can afford.
  • Enter into home ownership only after considering the merits of renting.

To the last point, Trahair provides a good summary of the merits, terms and considerations of owning a home, renting and even buying a condo.  Once again this material is available in other sources but Trahair does a good job of making these technical details easy to read and understand.

This includes understanding what inflation is (how the Canadian Price Index is calculated) as well as the state of the Canada Pension Plan (pretty good by all accounts).  Pulling it altogether, Trahair provides an overview of how a Cash Pig at one point in your life (saving for retirement) can become a Cash Cow later on (cashing in RRSPs).

A Bit Too Much Excel but Still a Good Graduation Gift

One fault Trahair has is going into too much detail of his Excel tools (which you can download free from www.trahair.com).  I recognize that these are good mechanisms to demonstrate his point and the scenarios that he is painting – but they also bog down the narrative.  Hopefully in future editions he sticks to the key messages and moves Excel-Explanations into annexes.

Nevertheless, if you know someone who is graduating this year and are thinking about a present I would suggest a bundle of books.  Firstly all of Trahair’s editions (available from his website) and Chilton’s series on the Wealthy Barber.

Good luck with you cash pigs and cows – and may the FLOW be with you!

Audit Question Log

An idea that I have been kicking around for a few years is why organizations don’t maintain a list of audit questions they have been asked in an Auditor Question Log?  Such a log contains the questions, responses and the organization’s supporting policies or documentation.

The Dumb-Newbie-Question Problem

Asking the same question year over year (and comparing the answers) has its merits in the tricks and tips of auditing.  For an auditor, a deviation can indicate a poor process or internal control risk.  There are also the dumb-newbie-questions.  You know the ones if you have been part of an audit.  The newly minted auditor asks a question that they should have learned in Accounting 201.  Dumb newbie questions are a cheap way for accounting firms to train articling students.  Unfortunately for the client, it not only consumes time and is frustrating – it wastes the true value of an audit: challenging the organization.

Don't let you next audit drive you mad - consider using an audit log. (Image: Vsevolod Mikhailovich Garshin (1855–1888); Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1972.145.2).

Don’t let you next audit drive you mad – consider using an audit log. (Image: Vsevolod Mikhailovich Garshin (1855–1888); Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1972.145.2).

An Audit Question Log

The idea behind an audit question log is to record the questions and responses asked in an audit and to categorize them.  The categorization will include what the question relates to, who answered the question, when was it asked and how does it relate to an existing processes or control.  The following table lists a potential list of attributes for a question log.  As well, download the Microsoft Excel template.

Microsoft Excel Template of the Auditor-Question Log

Attribute Description and Comments
ID An unique identifier ideally a simple sequential number.
Fiscal Year To which fiscal year(s) does a question pertain to.
Asked? Who asked the question?  Keep a list of not only the person’s name but also the audit organization they worked for.
 Audit In which audit was the question asked?  For many organizations it is hard to keep track of which auditor belongs with which audit and when they are starting or stopping.  Take a few minutes to radio collar your auditor before they start work in your organization.
Answered Who answered the question from your organization?
General & Sub Area What is the area of interest the auditor is asking the question about?  The general area is a drop down and there should be no more than about dozen (e.g. Assets, Expenses, Controls, etc.).  The sub-area is free text and is used to hone the nature of the specific question.
Question What was the question?  Surprisingly this is often difficult to pin down.  Sometimes auditors mumble, sometimes they don’t know the area well enough to articulate a question and sometimes it is a subterfuge.  Be sure you understand the question before you answer it.
Response And what was the response?  Cut and paste from emails, notes from a verbal discussion are fine.
Comment Anything else you want to add that is not otherwise identified in another column?  Try to avoid comments like ‘not the most stupid audit question ever asked but a very strong contender’.
Company What is being audited?  Not needed for small companies or organizations.  A life saver when you are dealing with a complex organization.
Policy Do you have a policy and/or procedure to back up your response?  No is okay, it is being created is better and yes is preferred.
Link It is 10pm, do you know where your policies are?  Include a reference to the policy.

Costs of the Question Log

The cost of an Audit Log is nominal but real.  Your organization needs to create the log, write down the questions and the corresponding response to the question.  The largest portion of this cost, researching and responding to a question, you will pay for whether or not you have an audit log.  The organizational challenge is changing the way your organization thinks about audit questions.  You need to think about having a log well before the auditors troop in, you need to educate your staff to use it and record the questions/answers and then you need to review and debrief it after the audit.

These activities seem trivial in abstract and exorbitantly high during the pitch battle of year-end.

The Benefits and Use the Question Log

The log can benefit both the auditor and the organization however.  For the auditor it demonstrate that the organization takes things like internal controls serious enough to write them down.  It also provides an organizational perspective of what has been tested in the past.  If there are dozens of questions over many years relating to custody of the petty cash system and no questions on the custody of attractive assets – well maybe petty cash can be given less attention this year and the auditors should be asking where are pinch-able and costly assets being stored?

For the organization, the audit log helps in a number of ways.  Before an audit starts, answer the common questions that have been asked numerous times in the past.  Thus when the auditors arrive, have the twenty-something read and review the questions from prior years.  They can certainly perform tests on the controls relating to the questions but that is a better use of time then asking what ‘AP’ stands for and how do you spell it.

Next take a hard look at what the auditors have reviewed in the past and get ahead of them by reviewing what they have not asked about.  Returning to the above example, do you really know where your expensive attractive assets are – maybe a policy, procedure and process should be started now well before the panic of year-end.

Leveraging the Log

View the time and effort responding to audit questions as an asset rather than an expense of year-end.  Like any good asset, the responses should be protected and managed.  For example, use the audit log as a training tool for your staff so that they understand the value and purpose of your procedures beyond being a simple set of rules to follow.  An Accounts Payable supervisor should not only be able to answer an auditor’s question about segregation of duties (e.g. separate vendor setup from invoice entry from batch approval for payment) but also WHY this is important and HOW the organization has expressed the importance through a corporate policy or procedure.

Heck, at the post-year-end party, run a Jeapordy style game ask the auditor questions to different teams and see who wins.  If most of your staff can understand and answer most of the auditor’s questions – everyone wins – even the auditors.

Container versus Content

Most of the above discussion focused on the content of the audit log; the questions and responses stored within it.  Spend a few minutes thinking about the container the log is stored in as well.  Excel is fine but a SharePoint list might be better.  Ideally ensure the container has version and access control and that you can see who added/changed what when.  After all, someday you may want to audit your Audit Log!

Thoughts on the Audit Log?

Drop me a note if you think there is merit in setting up the log and the attributes you have created for your own list of questions.

Write as a Team Sport: Antifragile Strategic Planning

I have been able to call upon friends and colleagues twice to help me craft articles.  In both cases IAEA Property, Plant and Equipment Framework and LATE the group provided me with excellent advice.

A huge note of thanks (and a libation or coffee on me next time I see you) to the following individuals who provided ‘friendly-peer-review’.  As in the last go round, the result was a much better article.  The article itself can be accessed through my “Antifragile Strategic Planning: director’s cut” or directly from the FMI website: January 2016.

Thank you for the Use of Your Brain

Of course no good deed ever goes unpunished and to that end, the following are the folks who have helped me with the friendly-peer-review.  Hopefully I can return the favor in the future.  Also, if you are on the list and are logging this as professional development, feel free to refer to this post and notice below.

Person

Organization

Anne-Marie A. Alberta Bone and Joint Health Institute 
Pam Q. Athabasca University
Stacey D. Government of Alberta
Shakeeb S. Government of Alberta
Peter N. Retired

To whom it may concern, the above individuals were asked to perform a friendly-peer review of an article intended to be published in the Financial Management Institute of Canada journal, FMI*IGF Journal. The estimated time to perform this review was between 2 to 3 hours completed in early December, 2015. All of the above individuals demonstrated a firm grasp of the subject matter and helped to create-net-new original thought and critique through this peer-review which will be reflected in the final article. 

The above activity meets the definition of Charter Professional Accountant – Alberta’s verifiable continuous professional development.  Evidence for this include this web page attesting to the involvement as well as the emails and responses provided to myself.  I welcome contact if further confirmation is required.

Principles of Legitimacy

In Malcom Gladwell’s book, ‘David and Goliath’, he refers to the ‘principle of legitimacy’.  These principles are the basis (or lack thereof) for why one group will allow themselves to be subject to another. The principles stress that it is the behaviour of the leaders that determines whether or not the followers will follow (or at least whether the followers see the leaders as being legitimate; see note [1] below).

The three principles of legitimacy

  1. those being ruled need to feel that they have a voice in the arrangement (e.g. no taxation without representation)
  2. the rules must be predictable and consistent (e.g. rule of law and due process)
  3. the rules must be consistently applied and appear to be fair to all being asked to follow the rules (e.g. equality before the law)

Kindergartens, Northern Ireland and the Jim Crow Laws

The writing brilliance of Gladwell is that he introduces this concept first in a kindergarten and then applies it to broader contexts such as Northern Ireland or the segregation laws of American South pre-1960.  In these examples, Gladwell extends the theme of his book in which an advantage may in fact be a disadvantage.  For example, the British Army in Northern Ireland had the men and material to temporarily impose control over the local population but not to sustain it because they failed to establish legitimacy amongst both the protestant and catholic populations.  As a result, strong armed tactics doomed the British Army to decades of occupation and directly or indirectly resulted in the death of hundreds if not thousands of combatants and civilians.  The principles of legitimacy are not without their consequences.

Too much or too little legitimacy?

An interesting speculation that Gladwell does not discuss is how much or how little of each are needed based on varying circumstances. After all there are circumstances where one of the three is reduced to nearly zero (for example, try asking for a voice in the arrangement during the first week of army boot camp or from the prison warden).  Alternatively, is there such a thing as too much of these principles?  Do they break down when taken to the extreme?  Have you ever been ‘surveyed’ to death by an employer asking about your degree of motivation or engagement with the company?  Or how about rules being applied too consistently such that the application actually erodes the legitimacy of the organization (think of a ten-year child old being expelled from schools for making imaginary guns out of their fingers; a zero tolerance policy gone horribly wrong; see note [2] for one example).

The take away from this aspect of Gladwell’s book is that these three principles of legitimacy are just that – principles.  They are not hard and fast rules and leadership is in their application rather than their memorization.  Here are some of my thoughts on considerations before over-applying one of the three principles of legitimacy:

  1. A voice in the arrangement:
    1. Ultimate accountability cannot be delegated away however.  For trekkies, Captain Picard solicited his crew’s opinion but he still made the decision.  Alternatively, calling for a vote and a study group when the pilot orders everyone into the airplane’s life rafts is ill-advised.
    2. Coercion can compensate for a voice in the arrangement, but only within short time periods or overwhelming force.  Thus the soldier in the boot camp knows that his time is short and the ultimate value outweighs the immediate discomfort.  Conversely, segregation worked not only because of the power of the whites in the South but also a lack of an united front amongst the blacks (see note 2 below for a bit of a back story behind a famous civil rights photo).
    3. A voice does not equal gaming the system.  Thus wheel the squeaky wheel gets the grease but it also violates the other two rules of fairness and consistency.
  2. Predictable and consistent and 3. Consistently applied and appear to be fair to all being asked to follow the rules
    1. To be predictable and consistent, a system needs to quickly and fairly establish two things: 1) how to change the rules and 2) how to allow for exceptions while disallowing unfair advantage.
    2. Principles 1 and these two are inter-twined as having a voice in the exceptions is critical. Think about a handicap parking spot.  We allow society (the leaders) to dictate that we give up the best parking spot because as a society we have had a voice (directly or indirectly) that this is a legitimate use of power.  At the same time though if choice spots were given out based on political affiliation or personal relations, the majority of the voices would be against the privilege.
    3. The sense of fairness is culturally biased.  For example, in traditional Islamic families, the opinion of the father or grandfather is nearly law.  Thus it may seen fair to deny a girl a right to an education or marry a non-muslim in this context.  In the secular West, these would seem patently unfair and sexist.

Lessons for the business reader

For business leaders, is there anything new here?  Yes and No.  Societies with the greatest longevity have tended to adhere to these principles.  At the same time though, these principles are also the hallmark of good leadership and good governance.  The take away is this, if you want to build an enduring organization that will outlast you remember that those being led:

  1. Seek both a voice in the decision but also expect leadership when leadership is needed.
  2. Expect rules to be fair, predictable and consistent but not at the expense of common sense.
  3. Know that part of leadership is in recognizing and explaining the exceptions without the system falling victim to being gamed or exploited.

In other words, leadership is still hard.  Nevertheless, authors such as Malcom Gladwell help us to challenge our assumptions and become better, and more legitimate, leaders.

Notes and some addition comments

 

[1]. p. 207: “When people in authority want the rest of us to behave, it matters – first and foremost – how they behave.

[2]. Milford 5th-grader suspended for pointing imaginary gun, as reported Nov 19, 2014,

[3]. Gladwell devotes nearly a full chapter to the back story behind the following picture which was a turning point for the American Civil Rights movement in 1963.  However, there more in the photo than meets the eye: p. 192: “The boy in Bill Hudson’s famous photograph is Walter Gadsden.  He was a sophomore at Parker High in Birmingham, six foot tall and fifteen years old.  He wasn’t a marcher.  He was a spectator.  He came from a conservative black family that owned tow newspapers in Birmingham and Atlanta that had been sharply critical of (Martin Luther) King.”

Walter Gadsden, 17, was attacked by police dogs on May 3, 1963, during civil rights demonstrations in Birmingham, Ala. (Bill Hudson/Associated Press) , courtesy of www.boston.com

Walter Gadsden, 17, was attacked by police dogs on May 3, 1963, during civil rights demonstrations in Birmingham, Ala. (Bill Hudson/Associated Press) , courtesy of www.boston.com

Strategic Planning: How Not to Waste Your Time 

Over a good portion of  my career, I have been responsible for strategic planning and for the most part it has been a waste of time and effort.  My experience is that organizations ask good people to spend a considerable effort in gazing into the future and describe all the great new things the organization will be doing.  The plan is released to great fanfare and then people get on with their lives managing operational activities or dealing with the crisis du jour.  Before the organization knows it, it is time to expend more effort to update a hopelessly out of date plan.  If anyone takes the time to compare the actual implementation with the good intentions of the previous plan, achievements are those which had few alternatives or were achieved with via dumb luck.

Okay, I am being a bit dramatic for effect and to get you ready to think about how strategic planning can be worth it’s time and effort through three principles.

Three Starting Point Principles

  1. The Process is the Plan.
  2. Execute… Something.
  3. Less is more and Four Pages is Lots.

The Process is the Plan.

Given that very few plans are ever read after their completion, does this not mean that the value is in the drafting of the plan rather than the final document? When organizations stop, think, and decide what to do next – they are better prepared for tomorrow’s crisis du jours.  Given that the value is in the process, does it not make it sense to institutionalize strategic planning within the organization’s management and governance functions rather than an annual exercise?  When this happens, the organization’s command, control and communication muscles are toned and ready to react quickly to opportunities and challenges.  Unfortunately the dark side of focusing on the process is analysis-paralysis or perpetual-planning that never results in a result.  In other words, planning is fun but only execution counts.

Execute… Something.

Strategic Plans are highly perishable.  Before too long they go from the plan of the moment, to something somewhat relevant to eventually becoming shelf-ware and at worst a walking zombie-plan (think of the communist regime’s five year plan in year 4).  Rapid implementation is critical and metrics even more so against the plan.  Ideally if the process is finely honed, then it stays current through multiple mini-revisions and then a major revision to thwart the Zombie plan-apocalypse.

This is done by executing against the plan, anything!  As well, measure the results of this execution: what was done, by whom and when.  This will validate the time and effort spent developing the plan, will tone and flex those organizational muscles and keep the plan in the organization’s consciousness.

Less is more and Four Pages is Lots.

There is an inverse relationship between the length of a plan and its value.  Less is more and I believe the best length is four (or fewer) pages.  What is on these four pages will be a function of the audience and their knowledge of the organization.  In general though, page one describes the organization’s environment, planning assumptions and the key mandates of the organization.  Page two is graphic that succinctly describes the organization of the future as a result of the plan.  Pages three to four describes the organization actions, each with a clear title and a clearer 1-2 sentence description of the action.  The four page restriction forces the organization to think strategically and not fall into either tactical or operational verbiage within the document.  It also prints nicely on two pages and can be scanned by even the most harried executive.

If there are more projects and initiatives, then they should be rolled up thematically.  At least one quarter of these actions should focus on what the organization intends to keep on doing/improve rather than the shiny new stuff.
For more complex organizations, there is an overarching four page plan with each logical subordinate sub-organization having its own four page document.  The organization should define at what level and what organizational units will need to produce their own four page strategic plans.

The devil is always in the details but angels are found in a summarizing graphic which helps narrate the overarching themes.  To flesh out the little devilish details, the process (principle #1 above) allows for subordinate plans to map to a larger organizational plan.  Ideally this is done in real time and continuously rather than on an annual/ad hoc basis.  The four page limit is to help an organization focus its strategic planning efforts but this rule can be bent based on its specific needs or circumstances.

Waste Not – Want Not (for a Strategic Plan)

Is there anything new or earth shattering in the above three principles?  Nope, not a darn thing.  Do organizations use the above principles very well – based on my experience?  Nope, not really.  This is not for lack for trying but it is for a lack of focus (or distractions).  That is why many strategic plans are written by consultants who have the time and capacity to interview executives and formulate nice reports.  Unfortunately in my experience, nice looking strategic planning reports are generally a waste of time and effort by the organization.

And now for the hard part, I plan to use these three principles in my strategic planning activities both in my work and professional life.  As I am successful (or crash in burning flames), I will use this blog to track the successes and tweaks to how to not waste your time in strategic planning.

Other Thoughts on Strategic Planning

 

FMI – eJournal Next Steps and Its Evolution

(Comments requested by May 17th either directly to this blog or to Cheryl(AT)FMI(dot)CA.

Do you subscribe to an academic, scientific, literary or business journal?  If you are a professional, it is likely your association sends you a monthly journal – do you have time to read it?  How about self-subscribed content?  My junk folder is filled with LinkedIn groups that seem like a good idea at the time, accounting firms newsletters, Canadian CPA webinars – and the list goes on.  The point is that there is lots of content that I am largely ignoring because there are only so many hours in the day and gas in the tank to do things.

Given this context, I was asked to join the editorial board of the Financial Management Institute’s (FMI) electronic journal (eJournal).  The journal has been struggling a bit with both its medium (now electronic, formerly paper) and content.  Nevertheless, there is a market opportunity for journal with the following target audiences (in order of importance):

  1. Financial managers within the public service.
  2. Public servants.
  3. Financial professionals in general and interested academics.

The last audience is of particular interest because of the consolidation of the three legacy accounting journals into the current CPA Magazine.  A well-written journal, it nevertheless has a strong general-business and private-practice focus.  Articles of a more technical or industry focus have a hard time finding the space or the word count within the CPA Magazine.

Given the market opportunity, what is the problem?  Alas, creating a journal of value takes dedicated volunteers, paid staff and a good value proposition to make the journal a paying proposition.  To this end, I am outlying two very different futures for the eJournal: an ‘Underpinning Resource‘ versus a ‘Nice Newsletter‘ through this blog. Based on feedback received, the FMI will decide what its eJournal should/can be. Although presented as an either/or proposition, these two futures represent two extremes on a range of possibilities.

FMI eJournal – a Nice Newsletter

Overview

On a bi-monthly basis, the FMI will send out an e-newsletter to its registered members. The focus will be on National activities (e.g. educational courses and events), and future/past chapter activities.  The typical FMI reader will skim the content primarily for activities of interest to him or her.  Original articles will be accepted but the eNewsletter will typically re-publish articles from other organizations.

Cost/Benefits

Costs are minimal, as the bulk of the content, Chapter News, will be written by volunteers.  A small editorial board will scan other publications and arrange for pro bono re-publication of the content.  The same editorial board will review submitted articles for their merits and consideration for the journal.

Enduring Value or Future

The eNewsletter is designed to have a very short life and will typically be scanned and then deleted by most readers.  Past editions will be posted on the FMI.ca website.

FMI eJournal – an Underpinning Resource

Overview

The eJournal will be an extension of the educational efforts of the FMI and will seek to produce original content supporting public servants in general and financial managers in particular. An editorial board and a full-time managing editorial (who may also have responsibilities for FMI educational activities) seeks out original content according to an editorial calendar. As a rule of thumb, over a rolling 100 article average, the journal should will have the following groups:

  • Pracademic Group: About 70 articles that help the public servant deliver value through pragmatic examples, tools and discussions they can readily use in their work place.  Included in this count are the articles dealing specifically with financial management in a public sector context as well as articles supporting FMI Chapters.  Submissions from this category will be mostly from FMI members, notes from Chapter events and a guest authors such as from CPA-Canada or major accounting firms.
  • Industry Group: About 15 articles will deal with our cho­­sen industry, the public service.  This includes perspectives from elected officials (current and former) at all levels of government, senior administrators, researches, etc.  These articles will generally describe the challenges and solutions of the ‘government-industry’ and provide context to those working for the public service in best matching their efforts to the challenges.  Generally, these articles will be solicited from specific authors, for example, former politicians, academics, senior government officials and the like; nevertheless, FMI members contributed articles will be preferred.
  • Macro Group: About 10 articles will deal with larger macro-economic/social /political/technical issues that affect public servants and the elected officials.  These articles will provide the environmental scan and may be in both from a Canadian, Commonwealth or other jurisdiction’s perspective.  Generally, these articles will be solicited from specific authors and may be paid for by FMI.
  • Other Group: The final five articles or so are a free-for-all.  They are articles of opportunity, humor, fun or don’t quite fit anywhere else.  This may include editorials, book reviews or re-publications of blogs and other articles (with permission).  These articles will come from a variety of sources.

Cost/Benefits

To attract and assure good quality, a paid managing editor is required who will coordinate a volunteer editorial board.  It will be advantageous to coordinate the managing editing functions with FMI educational activities so they are complimentary.

Enduring Value or Future

The eJournal will generate original thought leadership within the financial and public service communities.  Beyond posting the FMI.ca website, the mark of enduring value is that 5-10% of the articles published in the journal are referenced in other journals or are republished via LinkedIN or other social media.

Two Futures – What Say You?

The above identifies at a summary level two very different futures.  How realistic or beneficial is one future over the other?  Are there value opportunities I have not identified or a third future worthy of consideration? Leave a comment before May 17th with your thoughts!

FMI – 2015-16 Program Thoughts

As the Director of Programming for the Edmonton chapter of the Financial Management Institute, I get the chance to bring great topics to our members.  Our Chapter’s focus is on programming of interest for our members who are public servants in the greater metro-Edmonton area.  On March 12, the board is conducting its planning session for the 2015-16 program year.  This is your chance to contribute to the planning process without having to attend a board meeting (although if you want to volunteer…).

Leave a comment on this page with your idea.  A title is welcome but if you have a paragraph or two to add even better.  The items below list the potential topics of interest.  The sequence of events will be as follows:

  1. Identify great programming ideas.  An idea is composed of a title, a short description (e.g. a paragraph) and any other details such as potential partners.
  2. Identify programming venues.  Currently we focus on breakfast meetings but that is practice rather than the rule.
  3. Hold the March 12 meeting planning meeting.
  4. Update the future events page on the fmi.ca website.
  5. Execute!  This includes identifying an event project manager and start the planning process.

Our current ideas are as follows and are listed in no particular order, tentative sessions are just that, tentative.

Fraud awareness in the Public Sector (September 23, 2015), Scheduled

Internal controls are central to the fiduciary responsibilities of financial professionals and financial managers in the public service.  How good are your controls, is passing an audit enough and can you have too much control?  These are the questions that a panel of experts will discuss including examples from the real world of auditing.

Status of Capital Projects in Alberta and in Particular the metro-Edmonton Area, Votes: 16 – Scheduled for November 2015.

(Suggested by George W) What are the major capital projects being built in Alberta and what is the role of either by either public or private interests in their development?  This session will look at a state of the projects and how public servants can assist and support capita project based economic growth.  Also discussed will be the challenges of maintenance after completion, what are the options for keeping the lights on after the ribbon has been cut.

The Art of Influencing Others, Votes 16 – Schedule for January 2016

(Suggested by Neil P) In 1936, Dale Carnegie wrote ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’.  80 years later, the nature of business may have changed dramatically, and continues to change… yet the basic principles of human interaction and workplace communication have, in essence, remained the same. Given the changes in today’s world and business environment, the humanity of his teachings are more crucial now than ever before, and the ability to win friends and influence people in business is an increasingly important skill.  This seminar will teach you how to manage people and give you the crucial foundational skills to shift from being an individual contributor to a well-respected manager who can achieve team success.

Foster Innovation in the Public Service When Money is Tight, Votes: 15  – Scheduled for May 2016

(Suggested by Sue K) Public servants are expected to be innovative while working in a risk averse environment.  This inherent conundrum is compounded during times of fiscal restraint when ideas are solicited but resources to execute few.  This session will investigate innovation in the public services from a number of facets.  Firstly, what is innovation, how do you get it, how do you keep it and when should you ignore it?  Next, how to propose, implement and sustain an innovative idea or culture in an environment that is less than ideal.  Finally, thoughts and strategies of making the case during times of fiscal restraint, after all, never let a good crisis go to waste!

How to Run Effective Meeting, Votes:13

(Suggested by Neil P) Public servants and financial managers spend a good portion of their working day in meetings.  But what is the result from this time spent?  This session will help you be more effective through both other standing the psychology and practical skills.  Including in this section is how ‘Roberts Rules of Order’ can help you be more productive in a meeting without sacrificing innovation or open communication.

Public Service and Its Unions, Votes 10

One pervasive constant in the public service is the existence of unions across all levels of government.  This session will consider the benefits to the members, citizens and taxpayers unions play and what are the corresponding costs or inefficiencies they introduce.

Surviving the Dreaded Re-Organization, Votes:10

(Suggested and contributed by Rene M and Darci S) Ministry re-organizations and municipal re-engineering have been with public servants since the initial governments.  Why do re-organizations occur in the first place from the political level, who has mastered the art of surviving and what can a public servant take away from or contribute to the re-organization?  Beyond the structural changes, what are the specific challenges in changes in leadership and the loss of corporate knowledge at the executive level.  What are the impacts to managers, non-managers with a specific focus on the role of the finance person in the reorganization.

Healthcare, Finance and Your Tax Dollars, Votes: 9

An exploration of the healthcare expenditures made within the province and nationally.  How can this expenditure can be maintained, what is the impact on government revenues (at all levels) and how will it be affected by the aging of the Baby-Boomers.  A panel discussion will occur.

How Government Works, a Ground Up Review, Votes: 7

Canada has 3 levels of government, federal, provincial/territorial and municipal/aboriginal.  How do these government levels work, what are the similarities, differences and nuances for each?  What should a financial manager or public servant know about these similarities or differences?  This event will include presentations from past and present sitting politicians and a tour of the Alberta Legislature.

Public Sector Budget, Part II: Do Results/Performance Based Budgets really perform (or deliver results), Votes: 6

(Contributed to by Nobey) Known by many names and methodologies (Results Based, Zero Based, etc.), a performance based budget strives to link inputs (financial and other resources) with the outputs and intended outcomes.

In theory, a perfect model for allocating the scarce resources available to a public service.  In practice though, what have been their successes and challenges?

These are the perspectives and challenges FMI will explore in this engaging panel discussion and presentation formatted conference.  Of interest to all who hold, manage or rely on public-budgets.

Governments, Disaster Response and the 2013 Floods – Two Years Later, Votes:6

In June 2013, the first ever province wide state of emergency was declared.  One of the most destructive natural disasters occurred in which large portions of Southern Alberta was under water.  Looking back two years, what are the lessons learned for all levels of government in emergency response.  How can the Public Service be both agile and maintain the fiduciary responsibilities expected of it.  In addition to the 2013 Southern Alberta Floods, lessons from the SARS epidemic, Slave Lake Fire and Forest Fires will be considered.  This session will be of interest to any public servant interested in planning for the unexpected.

Procurement, Who Is Doing Better?, Votes: 5

(Suggested and contributed to by BTH and Bageshri V) In February 2015 the FMI asked the question, Procurement who does it well?  At this session we will return to procurement but with a larger supply chain focus and ask who is doing procurement even better?  Included in this session will be a return to the Government of Alberta’s Contract Review Committees – xx years after their inception.

SharePoint More Than File Storage, Votes: 3

(Suggested by Dianne L) The Microsoft collaboration tool SharePoint has become the new standard in offices.  Unfortunately for many organizations, it quickly becomes simply another network drive – and not a particularly good one at that.  In this session you will learn 5 things that you may not have known SharePoint could do: 1. Be your go-to Desk Reference/Procedure resource; 2. De-clutter the infamous network drive; 3) Become a budget system – without (almost) using Excel; 4) Store emails and declutter your inbox; 5) Used as a ministry/department priority tracking system.

Time Management, Votes: 3

Time and attention has become the new precious commodity for busy professionals. Email, smart phones and pervasive technologies nibble away at the twenty-four hours allocated each day to deal with business, family and personal priorities.   What are the philosophies, techniques and methods to make the best use of those twenty-four hours?

Public Sector Budget, Part I: Who Loves their Budget System, Votes: 3

Budgets are central to a public service organization.  In many ways they are as important or perhaps more important than even the financial statements.  This is particularly so in organizations using the Westminster model of budget approval (e.g. the provincial or federal governments).

Given their importance, who does budgeting well?  Who has clients that love the system and who can produce reliable and forecasts quickly?  This session will explore these questions and opportunities from four lens, the system, municipal, provincial and federal perspectives.

Operational, Strategic, Business, Risk and Other Planning, Votes: 3

(Suggested by John K) Public servants and in particular financial managers are asked to lead, contribute to, evaluate and then manage to a variety of plans.  But what exactly does the organization when they want a strategic/operational/business or risk plan?  What are the common elements in these documents?  More importantly, how can public servants prepare credible, useful and enduring plans from that ever so-edge of the side of their desk?  This session will provide definitions, tips, tricks, guidance and most important, clues how to plans that spend as little time on the shelf as possible.

Who Loves their ERP and ERM?, Votes: 3

(Suggested and contributed to: Chris M and Darwin B) It is a truism that systems are the new bricks and mortars for organizations.  Unfortunately with this importance comes the risk when they are not well designed, implemented, run, managed or governed.  This session will look at the last two challenges in the context of two systems – how best to manage and govern an organization’s Enterprise Resource/Risk Management systems?  This will include topics such as – what should be the vision for these systems, who should be the governors, the managers, the users with the voice and to integrated the disenfranchised users?  As well, best practices/examples will be discussed from both local metro-Edmonton and from further afield.

Have Designation – Will Travel, Vote: 2

PSAB, IFRS and IPSAS means that accountants are increasingly less tied to specific industry, employer or even country.  What are the risks, rewards and opportunities for a professional accountant to take a secondment or leave to parts unknown?  What is the value proposition to the home and receiving organization?  How should family, career and community factor into this decision?  

Public Service Renewal – Three Years Later, Votes: 2

On November 1, 2012, IPAC-Edmonton and FMI held a joint conference to hear about initiatives to renew the public sector from its senior leaders. The panelists included Simon Farbrother (City Manager, City of Edmonton), Peter Watson (Deputy Minister of Executive Council, Government of Alberta), and Jim Saunderson (Chief Financial Officer – Western Economic Diversification, Government of Canada).

Three years on, what has changed and is renewal still a priority for governments?  What are the specific risks for the provision of financial, accounting or economic services?  This conference will revisit 2012 and look forward another three years in the context of public sector renewal.

Standards, Standards and More Standards, Votes: 0

(Suggest by John K) for accountants working in non-traditional finance areas, it is easy to get rusty on the standards that underpin our work. This refresher will provide a whirlwind tour for the financial manager on the accounting standards in force and that influence the public service.  This will include the legacy Canadian CICA, International Accounting Standards (IAS), International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS), Canadian Public Sector Accounting Board (PSAB), International Public Sector Accounting Standards (IPSAS).

The 360 Review and Benefits of Self-Knowledge, Votes: 0

(Suggested by John K) Many organizations employ 360 reviews to help employees better understand themselves through how others perceive them.  During this session, the 360 review will be explained (including its strengths, shortcomings, costs, etc.) and how you can collect feedback informally about yourself through less formal means.

Policies, Procedures, Legislation, Regulations and Directives, Votes: 0

(Suggested by Carey M) Accountability and oversight comes in many forms.  What organizations have mastered the subtle art of enough control that does not destroy innovation in its ranks.  This session will look at that delicate balance including special focuses on the federal and provincial treasury boards and municipal equivalents.

One Town – Many Governments, Votes: 0

(Suggested by Ron M) Edmonton is a government town. What may surprise you though is exactly how much government is going on in our area code.  Within a hundred kilometres of the legislature dome there are xx independent government levels and organizations.  This includes the federal, provincial, municipal, first nations, crown organizations (agencies, boards and commissions) – and don’t forget the universities, schools, Alberta Health Services and other full and partially arms length entities.  How well does these entities cooperate with each other at a political, executive, financial management (yeah FMI!) and professional level.  What can be done to improve this cooperation and is there a dark side to knowing your neighbours a bit too well?

Critical Thinking and the Financial Professional, Votes: 0

(Suggested by Lucia S) How well do you perform when it comes to critical thinking and analysis and how well do you communicate the results?  This session will explore the dark arts of critical thinking and combine it with how to present and communicate such analysis in a simple and effective manner to executives and to the political level.

Mission Possible: Building Better Teams?, Votes: 0

(Suggested by Sandra V) Teams or at least work units are the basis for most organizational structures.  How can financial managers build better teams and how can financial professionals and public servants be better followers and contributors to a team?  More importantly, how to balance the success of the team with individual performance management and promotion.  This session will explore these issues and concepts.

Accounting for and Managing Assets in Government, Votes: 0

How well does your organization manage the asset life cycle?  How is that asset verification thing working out for you?  Are your organization policies, procedures and technology current or are they getting a bit stale?  Finally, do you understand the accounting standards relative to tangible, intangible, component-ization or work in progress accounting?  This session will examine the asset life cycle, who is doing it well, the standards and what could be done better.

Building Teams When Times are Tough, Votes: 0

(Suggested by Xin N) Individuals are appraised by teams produced!  However, how do you build effective teams, resolve conflict and create a healthy work place when the demands on the individual public servant have become greater than ever?  This session will provided you with practical skills in team building and work relationships so as to keep your individual sanity and your team effectiveness.

The Art of Performance Measurement, Management and Avoiding Unintended Consequences, Votes: 0

An old saw goes, ‘What gets measured gets done’.  However in dueling quotes, Albert Einstein said: “Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted’.  Thus the challenge of performance measurement in the public service.  What are the acknowledged performance measurements for government organizations, how can the costs to collect these measures be reduced while improving their accuracy, finally, what is the role of the financial professional to managing measurements (both financial and non-financials).

Transfer Pricing and Internal Costing of Goods and Services, Votes: 0

Full costing of government is a challenge.  Central services (finance, human resources, IT, etc.) are often seen as a ‘free-good’.  Nevertheless, stakeholders (taxpayers, citizens, politicians) want to know the cost of delivering a project, program or service.  Twenty years ago, activity based costing, budgeting and management was one method to accomplish transfer pricing – since then the accounting world has become largely silent for these techniques.  This session will discuss the value and purpose transfer pricing, the existing accounting standards and success (and not so success) stories.

Information Management and Government Decision Making, Votes: 0

A central role of financial managers and public servants is to ‘speak truth to power’; however truth needs to be based on good information and evidence.  What are the sources of information that can be used to make good decisions?  How do public servants manage information that is growing faster than the ability to assimilate let alone understand it.  This session will allow the public servants to understand what is information, how can it be managed, how it can be used for decision-making and how is this a good career tool.

Cost Accounting in the Public Service, Votes: 0

Activity Based Costing (ABC) and Budgeting (ABB) have seen their fortunes rise and fall over the past few decades.  The Alberta Government has passed the Results Based Budgeting (RBB) Act which seeks to systematically review all government programs and services from an output and outcome perspective.  This session will discuss the role cost accounting/budgeting plays in this new world at all levels of government.  What are the human, system and cultural changes needed to make RBB, ABC, ABB or any other similar resource allocation process successful?

SharePoint Wikis as a Desk Reference Tool – How-To Pages

This is the second in a good intentioned series of blogs detailing my experiences and uses of the tool.  The first blog, SharePoint 101, provided some context and a ‘fictional use-case’ which the following blog is based on.

To date, I have used the wiki function of SharePoint in 4 different organizations.  I would rate only the last one as being successful and being able to deliver the communication value that I seek.  I will dispense with defining what a wiki is, how to edit them and other entry-level knowledge needs.  This knowledge is very important but is beyond this blog just as defining good documentation is beyond the scope of this blog.

Unfortunately documentation is a waste of time… until the moment you need it and so determined how you will need the documentation and work backwards.  Part of working backwards is to recognize that terms like wikis scare most people away.  As a result, I prefer the term Desk Reference.  It is a hardy and old fashion term that conjures up images of a trusty 3″ binder full of policies and procedures.  So, we can now tell the “don’t change nothing!” co-worker that this is a Desk Reference, not one of those fancy-dancy wikis, by Jove!

Key Terms and Structures

A SharePoint wiki library is composed of webpages.  But what to name the pages?  To start, do not use spaces but use “-” or “_” instead; SharePoint will strip out the spaces and sometimes they give you the dreaded “%20%” error – so better to avoid spaces from the start.  Next, set up a naming convention for the types of pages you be using.

Because I have screwed up enough Desk References, I have come up with what I think is a really good standard set of conventions for Desk Reference pages.  Generally these pages are broken into the following:

  • HOW-TO pages (the subject of this blog)
  • DESK-REFERENCE Standards
  • INFRA pages (the next blog)
  • WISDOM, template and other page types (a future blog)

There are more to a good desk reference than just the pages, but that is still more future blogs (I may be writing for a while).

HOW-TO Pages – Overview

Based on the fictional budget management site, the clients using this site will need to know how to do specific activities.  As an aside, Desk Reference pages should be part of a multi-channel strategy to communicate with one’s clients.  Myself, I use the ‘HOW-TO’ pages as a reference in emails, as an audio-visual aid in conference calls and meetings and then linked within the actual tools.  The format of a ‘HOW-TO’ page is as follows:

  • “How-To”-[SUBJECT NAME]: Used to describe how to perform a business process.  These pages described to my clients how to do things for specific budget activity.
  • For example, let’s say that the budget activity involved:
    • Set up a unique activity code
    • Providing a narrative for that code
    • Providing costs associated with the code
    • Allocating the costs across the organization and
    • Running a reporting on all of the above
  • The possible HOW-To Names could include:
    • HOW-TO_BUDGET-CONTEXT: a context page detailing why the budget activity is needed, the authority and any rules of engagement.
    • HOW-TO_NEW-CODE: an instruction page of how to create a new code.
    • HOW-TO_NARRATIVE, HOW-TO_COST, HOW-TO_ALLOCATE, and HOW-TO_REPORT pages detail specific steps for each of these functions.

HOW-TO Page Standard Format

Consistency is key in writing procedure manuals.  The user has to be able to expect a format and then not to be surprised afterwards.  To this end, I strive to use the following conventions:

Bread Crumbs

At the top of the wiki page, I like to provide a set of links or bread crumbs such as the following example from fictional budget management site.  Some standards used include:

  • Home – takes the user to the main desk reference page
  • Planning Cycle Overview – Returns the user to the theme area, in this case an overview of the budget planning cycle
  • Go to Tool – A bold/italic leap to the relative tool, in this case, a SharePoint list
  • <<< Back or Forward >>> – The previous (<<<) or next step (>>>)
  • Note the eye-catching graphic and context for the desk-reference-fatigued user
HOW-TO page with breadcrumbs, Just the Facts and a catchy image

HOW-TO page with breadcrumbs, Just the Facts and a catchy image

Just the Facts

The body of the HOW-TO page includes a very abbreviated overview of what needs to be done.  Ideally this is so an experienced user can get a quick refresher without having to read the full-page.

An Example of a Just the Facts summary of steps

An Example of a Just the Facts summary of steps

HOW-TO Body

Suitably detailed instructions are provided to walk the user through the task at hand.  More detailed than the Just the Facts section but less detailed than what is found in some of the pages in the Quick Links section

Quick Links

The last section provides additional reading links for those need more information or research.  In the following example, links are provided for definition of the fields used in the business case narrative SharePoint list, the ‘INFRA-‘ definition of the header list (see next blog) as well as how to request a new code and the data dictionary entries (a future blog).

Example of Quick Links for a Budget Management Site

Example of Quick Links for a Budget Management Site

SharePoint – 101

I like SharePoint, it is not a love-level relationship but it has matured definitely to the like stage.  Through this and future good-intention blogs, I want to put down what I think are some pretty cool ways to use SharePoint and just as important, some good ways to use the tool.

SharePoint, huh?

If you are reading this and have never used or heard of SharePoint, go onto some of my other postings on this website.  Unfortunately SharePoint is kinda hard to explain and so therefore I will assume that you know about the following things:

  • Its general architecture (e.g. there are farms, sites, sub-sites, lists and items)
  • Its typical structures (lists, libraries, workflows, webparts, pages, search, etc.)
  • Who uses and how access is managed (e.g. super-administrators; site-administrators; users with contributor, read and other access)

If any of the above is makes you go huh?, sorry I can’t help you but I can point you in the right direction:

  1. Wikipedia has a good over-view description.
  2. Read the Microsoft Sales Stuff.
  3. Take a course, there are lots out there including those from Microsoft.
  4. By a book, Chapters or Amazon sells lots, and
  5. Most importantly – start using it!

How Not to Use SharePoint

… but before you start using SharePoint, here is something to recognize about how not to use SharePoint.  Don’t use SharePoint as a glorified Network File System.  It can do so much more, so why do so many people do so little with it?  Hopefully the next few blogs will give you just some examples.

How to Use SharePoint

In my ongoing effort to remember what the heck I have done, I have the good intention of writing a series of blogs about some cool uses of SharePoint (and associated technologies).  Check back to read about cool stuff or to see a post of shame of good intentions gone bad.

  • SharePoint Wikis as a Desk Reference Tool
  • Data Dictionary (of SharePoint and other stuff)
  • Looking up a Look Up of a Look Up
  • Managing Sites, Structures and People (a poor man’s content management strategy)
  • Using SharePoint as a Budgeting Tool

Business Case Example

I have used SharePoint for a variety of uses including:

  • An internal facing team-site with a handful of users having access
  • A highly restricted decision making site with very sensitive information
  • A status reporting system for dozens of project teams who in turn need to consolidate their work into a few sentences for an executive office
  • A ministry briefing binder in which hundreds of documents were managed that had varying degrees of sensitivity and right of access
  • Widely available budget site in which budget clients uploaded their working papers for consolidation
  • A project site composed of numerous teams working on a complex system transition

For the purposes of this and other blogs, I will use a fictional example of a budget site in which internal clients need to submit content and documents.  This example will centre around a government organization and specifically one that primarily manages projects but also manages contractors, contracts and staff.

Procurement Questions

On February 26, 2015, the FMI-Edmonton Chapter is hosting a professional development session, ‘Procurement-Who Does it Well?’.  The pre-event program notes are available (including speaker biographies) for those wanting a bit more detail or context.

Louis Moeller,

Louis Moeller,

The purpose of this session is to explore:

Canadian governments (federal, provincial, municipal and agencies) collectively procure  billions of dollars each year. Efficient and effective procurement is critical to the proper functioning of government operations and central to a modern economy.  This professional training session will consider the public sector procurement challenges from many perspectives including procurement professionals, public servants who need to purchase goods/services, the financial manager, system providers and of course the taxpayer who ultimately pays for the purchase.  This is a joint presentation by FMI and PwC Canada – a global leader in supply chain and procurement.

 With any good session, a set of questions helps to explore the issues.  Available to speak to (if not answer the questions) are experts from PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC) as well as Federal/Provincial/Municipal government finance and procurement professionals.  In addition, we will also use the ‘wisdom of crowds’ for this session in which individuals attending can text/email in responses to questions which they think better answer or contribute to the question.

Questions fall into one of the following themes:

1. The Future of Procurement

(Questions relating to changes in People, Process and the Products of the procurement process?  This includes the use of technologies, legislation, training, etc.).

  • Alberta has recently introduced legislative and Treasury Board directive changes increasing the difficulty of conducting sole-source contracts, the use of contract review committees, changes to conflict of interest and other amendments.  Where do these changes place Alberta relative to the rest of Canada for transparency and over-sight of the procurement process?  Should any of the changes be adopted by other levels of government, if not already; in particular, by municipalities?
  • How well do government organizations in Alberta coordinate their procurement activities? Do other jurisdictions to a better job and if so, what will Alberta need to do to match this performance?
  • How procurement-literate is the average public servant?  What is the minimum they should know and where is the best place to learn this?

2. The Current Practicalities of Procurement

(Questions relating to how to ensure compliance with existing organizational and legislative rules and procedures.  This includes reducing the burden compliance while selecting the best vendor during a procurement event).

  • How much is public-sector procurement a technology problem, a political problem, a people problem, a process problem – or is there a problem?
  • How do private sector vendors perceive the government procurement processes in Alberta?  How and how much should their perceptions, needs and circumstances be taken into consideration when designing a procurement process or running a procurement activity?
  • Are inefficiencies in the public-sector procurement process used to discourage expenditures and thus they are a form of cost avoidance or containment on the part of a government?

3. From the Procurement Professional’s Perspective

(Questions related to how a procurement professional can support public servants in selecting vendors of goods and services).

  • How does an organization know that it has a good procurement process?  What metrics should an organization track against to make this assessment and are benchmarks available in general or in particular to public-sector procurement?
  • Who is the ‘pin-up organization’ that every procurement manager wishes their organization could emulate?  Who is the best of the best when it comes to public-sector procurement?
  • A common compliant amongst public servants are the Byzantine procurement rules, seemingly arbitrary changes to the procurement process and endless legal reviews.  How much is this perception real and how can procurement professionals streamline and the process without losing accountability for a fair, open and transparent bidding process?
  • When should a procurement professional be the person to negotiate price with a vendor?  What other procurement attributes (e.g. delivery, quality, terms, conditions, etc.) should be the responsibility of the public servant making the purchase versus the procurement professional?

4. From the Financial Manager’s Perspective

(Questions related to what a financial manager must consider when supporting public servants or procurement professionals).

  • Canadians were perhaps shocked with the revelations of corruption in Quebec.  Over all, how does Canada or Alberta fair on its public-sector procurement being free of corruption?  What are the pro-active and retro-active activities to maintain a corruption free status (or to de-corrupt it, as applicable).
  • What is the one way a financial professional can assist a public servant or a procurement professional in the context of procurement?

5. Alberta’s Contract Review Committees

(Questions specific to operating a contract review committee within a public sector organization with a specific focus on the province of Alberta’s implementation of a review committee).

Alberta Context: A Government of Alberta Treasury Board directive requires that all departments have in place a contract review committee ‘to support the procurement accountability framework’. This framework in turn will: ‘support consistent goods and services procurement practices, including those in respect of Construction, across all departments, that reflect best practices and foster accountability, fairness, effectiveness, and efficiency ‘.

  • Some Alberta Ministries already have contract review committees, how much is this experience being considered when setting up new contract review committees?
  • Are the experiences of other governments also being considered, for example ad hoc committees used in selection of federal or municipal committees.
  • Should the vendor experience or perspective be considered as part of the deliberations of a contract review committee?
  • Some ministries had review committees while others have yet to establish a committee before the April 1, 2015 deadline.  How much should and will the committees differ across the ministries?  What are the FOIPP and public disclosure consideration for these committees?

Proofiness

Mathematics can be used and presented in a manner that distorts the underlying truth or at least the underlying likelihood of a truth.

A mathematician seated at a table, working on mathematical equations

A mathematician seated at a table, working on mathematical equations

YAWWWNNNNN, who cares – Charles Seife does and tells us why you should care too in this book, “Proofiness: How You’re Being Fooled By The Numbers“.

Seife’s position is that bad math is more than being hoodwinked into buying oatmeal (see Quaker Oatmeal cholesterol numbers); bad numbers disenfranchise voters and erodes the democratic rights of Americans.

A Bad Math Field Guide

Be warned, this is a heavily American-focused book in which about half is dedicated to the challenges of the US voting systems.  If you can get past this bias, some interesting terminology and underhanded methods are exposed.  Here are a few:

  • Truthful numbers: come from good measurement that is reproducible and objective
  • Potemkin* numbers: derived from nonsensical or a non-genuine measurement
  • Disestimation: taking a number too literally without considering the uncertainties in its measurement
  • Fruit packing: Presentation of accurate numbers in a manner that deceives through the wrong context.  Techniques include cherry-picking, apples to oranges and apple polishing.
  • Cherry picking: Selection of data that supports an argument while underplaying or ignoring data that does not.
  • Comparing apples to oranges: ensuring the underlying unit of measurement is consistent when comparing two or more populations.
  • Apple-polishing: data is touched up so they appear more favourable (this was the Quaker Oatmeal trick).
  • Randumbness: because humans are exceptional at discerning patterns we also suffer from randumbness, insisting there is order where there is only chaos.
  • Prosecutors Fallacy**: Presenting a probability incompletely and leading to a false data assumption.

* Named for Prince Potemkin who convinced the empress of Russia that the Crimea was populated by constructing villages that were only convincing when viewed from a distance – such as a passing royal carriage.  An example of a Potemkin number was Joe McCarthy’s famous claim of 205 communists in the State Department.

** This one is worth a blog on its own so for more, read: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prosecutor’s_fallacy.

Take Your Field Guide With You to Work

These are important concepts for not only a citizen to consider when looking at dubious polling information but in the business or public policy world as well.  If there is a shortcoming in Seife’s book, this is it.  In my opinion he over focuses on the bad use of numbers in the public arena without touching on how CEO’s, CFOs, Boards and government-Ministers may also be hoodwinked.

Individuals being asked to make decisions based on numbers need to be able to cut through the packaging techniques discussed above.  This is becoming more important as our society moves to a 144 character Twitter attention span and public policy needs to be distilled down to a simple infographic.  As well, while developing a dashboard for a business is valuable, be sure that it is not filled with polished, cherry picked, Potemkin numbers based on a disestimation

Disenfranchising a few Million

Returning to the book, Seife has some advise for the US when it comes to the United States census.  Written into the constitution, once-every-decade process of counting all American citizens costs about $6.5 Billion dollars.  For this expenditure, it is estimate that the census misses about 2% of the United States population and double counts about 1%.  While these numbers would in theory cancel each other out (more or less), the impact is that there about 10 million US voters not accounted for in the census.

This error rate can be mitigated through techniques known as statistical sampling which will smooth out the distortions.  The result would be generally more people counted in poorer, racial minority areas who don’t like to fill in census forms or talk to government officials.  The ‘result of the result’ would be these people would then have more politicians to vote for (larger representation) and to send to Washington.

So far sounds good except that poor, non-white folks tend to vote for the Democrats which is why there is another perspective: only a count – counts. This being America, the counting challenge has generated a lot of legal attention and two population numbers.  One used by everyone who needs precise data to estimate everyday population trends and another used to reapportion the House of Representative seats.  After numerous legal battles, millions of Americans are disenfranchised because only a more error prone enumeration technique is permitted (see pages 185-198 for a more thorough explanation and also some very impressive legal gymnastics by the Supreme Court).

A Math Journey with a Curmudgeon

Seife sees himself as unbiased journalist although his leftiness tends to negate this somewhat.  He distrusts political polls, NASA, fluffy articles in scientific journals and the social sciences.  In other words, reading Proofiness is like visiting with a self-indulgent, opinionated curmudgeon – who is also brilliant and often right.  If you use numbers to make decisions in your day to day life, I would encourage you to take your ‘Proofiness-Field Guide’ with you.

Phrankism: Documentation is a Waste of Time

In World War Two, the British counted the bullet holes in airplanes that returned from missions.  Based on where the holes were, they now knew where not to bother putting armour on their airplanes (see this Mother Jones Article).

Mother Jones: Counter Inutitive World

Mother Jones: Counter intuitive World

Documentation seems to be a bit like this; one of my Phrankism is: Documentation is a complete and utter waste of time… until the moment when you need it.  Therefore figure out when you will need the documentation and work backwards from there.

The challenge when creating documentation is what is needed and what will never be read (e.g. the bullet holes in the returning airplanes).  In the old days, one way to do this was to look at pages in a binder and see which ones were the dirtiest, dogged eared and marked up.  The pristine pages were never read and the beat up ones were the important pages.

Binders have largely gone the way of the DC-3s and have been replaced with digital mediums such as Wikis.  Over the past seven years I have been using Wiki as the primary documentation ‘container’.  One of the benefits of using such an electronic container is the ability to measure when a page was created and its modifications.  Tools such as SharePoint also allows you to track how often a page was visited.  Ideally a rating tool (such as what Microsoft uses for its help pages) measures both quantitative and qualitative values (e.g. how helpful was the page to you).

The result for organizations?  Focus documentation efforts on the pages never updated, opened or rated.  Ask if a page is digitally pristine, is it needed? Is the organizational knowledge being documented so obvious that it need not be written down?  Is the page so poorly written that the organization avoids or ignores it?

One last little trick on documentation is to ensure that each page is assigned an owner.  Ask them during performance review time why the page was never read, is it needed or how to improve it.

Documentation is a complete waste of time.  The best way to improve the value of the effort is to ensure the pages in the binder or in the wiki come back shot up, bruised, battered and successfully used in the war of Organizational Knowledge and Productivity.

Inventorying IM/IT in the Grey Zone

Question #2 of the SWOT+4 IM/IT Planning Model asks: ORGANIZATIONAL IM/IT: How can/does/should Information Management/Technology (IM/IT) support or impede what is important to the organization; does the organization have the right IM/IT and if not, when will it get it?

Although there is a lot stuffed into this question, in this blog I want to focus on a small but important part of Question #2, what do you currently have for IM/IT resources?  If you have read my prior blog, you will note that this is an area managed by Step 13: IM/IT Fleet and Resoure Management of the IM/IT Lifecycle Model.

Before dashing off and building new IM/IT resources, should organizations not know what they have in the cupboard to start? Over the past twenty years, I have been amazed at how hard this question is to answer. So, to find the answer, let us define the problem, “what exactly are we counting when we inventory the systems”?

Does the organization count its office productivity software (e.g. Microsoft Office)? If so, how many times should it count it? Once for the organization, once per user or once per every file created? Is a memorandum written in a Microsoft Word file an IM/IT resource that should be inventoried as a resource?

Likely most people would tend to say no to a Word file. Okay, how about a Word Mail merge file that supports an organization’s marketing effort? Perhaps this file has had thousands of dollars of custom Visual Basic scripts developed for it and links and performs unique functions within the organization. Would this Word file now count as an IM/IT resource? This mission critical ‘application’ is now entering the “grey zone”.

The grey zone is when IM/IT resources go from a commodity (e.g. Microsoft Office) to an operational, tactical or strategic resource for the organization. In developing an inventory of applications, the following graphic is my current thinking about what to count, including what I would see as the grey zone.

The Two Dimensions to Measure Which IM/IT Resources Should be Inventoried.

The Two Dimensions to Measure Which IM/IT Resources Should be Inventoried.

The horizontal axis asks the question, what knowledge is necessary to make changes to the application? As you move left to right, there is increasing technical knowledge needed to make a system change. The vertical axis asks the question, is this a purpose built application or one that was created specifically for the organization? Applications at the top are purpose built; those at the bottom are common to any organization or user.

This blog is a teaser and in the next one, I will overlay applications your organization may have lying about on top of the model. Let me know your thoughts, do I have the right measures or are there more than two dimensions that should be measured?

IM/IT Lifecycle – Re-Do

Thank you to those who provided comments on my previous IM/IT Lifecycle Model.  Your collective whacks on the side of my digital head identified a number of areas of improvement.  Thus, this is a Re-Do blog with what I think is a much better model.  Thanks again for your comments!

The previous blog introduced the SWOT+4 Planning Model. The value of the model is the ability to focus on specific elements of IM/IT planning. Once an organization is successful with one part of the model, it can move on to other areas needing improvement. This blog will introduce a tool to evaluate the robustness of an organization’s IM/IT lifecycle. Intended to be an introduction, future blogs will drill down further.

The Role the IM/IT Lifecycle Model plays in the SWOT+4 Model
The Role the IM/IT Lifecycle Model plays in the SWOT+4 Model

One of the first areas of model to evaluate is internally focused on the IM/IT needs and capabilities of the organization. In the SWOT+4 model these are represented by the organization’s IM/IT strengths and weaknesses and specifically questions 2 and 3:

  • Q2. ORGANIZATIONAL IM/IT: How can/does/should IM/IT support or impede what is important to the organization; does the organization have the right IM/IT and if not, when will it get it? (Answered by IM/IT Lifecycle Steps 01 through 16)
  • Q3. IM/IT CAPACITY: How well does the organization DO IM/IT, is it getting better, worse or about the same? (Answered by IM/IT Lifecycle Step 00)

Context for the IM/IT Lifecycle Model

The IM/IT Lifecycle Model is an adaptation of the Asset Lifecycle Model. While the Asset Lifecycle Model focuses on the management of tangible assets, the IM/IT variation is concerned with the acquisition of things like computers and technology systems. The governance, system and audit functions at the bottom of the model answer questions #3, what is an organization’s IM/IT capacity? All the other steps answer question #2, what are the organization’s IM/IT needs and are (or when/how will) these needs to be fulfilled or they support the accounting and reporting functions.

Information Management/ Techology Lifecycle Model (revised March 1 2014)

Information Management/ Techology Lifecycle Model (revised March 1 2014)

IM/IT resources move through the model from left to right and may use more or less of each step depending upon the nature of the IM/IT system. In theory the model applies equally well to both technology (infrastructure, applications) as to information itself (data, reporting, data standards, etc.).

Two steps of note are Step 03 and 13. Step 03, the Project Management Office (PMO) replaces the requirements specification in the Asset Lifecycle Model but is broader and ideally encompasses other steps. For example, a good PMO methodology incorporates procurement processes such as issuing requests for proposals (Step 04), managing resulting vendor contracts (Step 05) and managing the vendor provision of assets, software, licenses or consulting services (Step 07).

Step 13 replaces the asset management function in the Asset Lifecycle Model. It includes in or outsourced functions such as application maintenance or technology production management. In an ideal world, these processes and systems drive the accounting of IM/IT. For example, an application built, capitalized but then abandoned is identified in this Step and communicated to the accounting system for de-recognition or conversely adjustments to the amortization schedule. Step 13 also straddles the central corporate IT and business area functions as it should be a partnership between the two.

Direct Attribute Costs (Step 09) and System Business Operations (Step 10) are purposely overlapped. Direct Attribute costs are the resources the organization brings to bear to implement a system. Examples can include the dedicated project staffing or costs to retrofit a data centre to accommodate new servers supporting an application. System Business Operations by contrast are the costs and effort to commission the system and bring it online. From an organizational perspective, Step 10 asks (and answers) the question, does the IM/IT resource meet the business needs identified for the asset?

Enterprise Resource Planning and the IM/IT Lifecycle

Included in each step are possible metrics as well as the information system such as the organization’s Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) tool or Information Technology System that may support the step. For brevity, the following ERP components are used:

  • (1. Budgeting): the planning, monitoring and resource allocation functions.
  • (2. Procure to Pay): from requisition to payment including the treasury management functions.
  • (3. Asset management): the receipt, installation, maintenance, tracking and disposal of assets.
  • (4. Accounting to Reporting): the proper accounting, record keeping and reporting (internal and external) of assets.
  • (5. IT Infrastructure Management): the creation, maintenance of servers, networks, security systems, desktop access, operating systems and all components necessary to run one or more applications.
  • (6. Application Maintenance): the maintenance, support, bug/fix, user training, system administration and other functions necessary to maintain one or more applications that support a business process or function.

The purpose of this blog was to introduce the IM/IT Lifecycle Framework and place it in context to the SWOT+4 Model. In future blogs, I plan to drill down on each of the Steps and provide examples of systems, standards and best practices across organizations.

What do you think? Does your organization use a systematic method such as the IM/IT Lifecycle to plan, implement and manage your IM/IT investments? Where do your systems potentially lie within the model? For example, does your organization have a systematic PMO function or do you even know what is in your application fleet? Drop me a note and send me a comment with your perspectives.

Professional Development and Good Intentions

As a professional accountant, I am happy and obligated to record and report on my Professional Development (PD).  This is in particular because I have always liked the Certified Management Accountants Competency Map.

CMA Competency Map

CMA Competency Map

Nevertheless, the biggest challenge I have had over the years is the best way to record PD!  I have tried spreadsheets (an accountant’s best friend), online databases and just about everything in between.  One the one hand LinkedIn seems to offer a solution (discussed in a previous Blog: LinkedIn – Do I have a Deal for YOU!) – on the other hand, I hate to leave my professional reporting obligations in the hands of an American company.  In the end, I have landed on a simpler solution – put them on my website.

So, dear brand new Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada/Alberta;

Starting January 1, 2014; I promise to record my PD activities on my website (Phrankisms > Phrank’s CPLD) and make them publicly available.  I further promise to use this webpage to promote the concepts and benefits of PD within in my community.  Finally, I encourage my friends and colleagues to gently remind me when I fail to follow through on the above promises in a timely manner.  A libation of their choice (coffee, tea, stronger) is the incentive to identify PD that I have missed.

How about you?  Do you have PD reporting obligations and if so, how do you tracking and manage them?  Send me comments, email, etc.  with your strategies.  And keep your eyes open to see if I have missed any PD!

Writing as a Team Sport

On the off chance that you have been wondering where my blogs have gone, I have been putting the finishing touches on an article to be published (hopefully) in the next issue of the FMI Journal.  Writing, especially when you do if for free, is a labor of love and you don’t do it alone.  Beyond relying on one of the best editors/critics in the world, my wife Margreet, this time around I also had some help from former colleagues.

This is the first time I have used what I am calling a ‘friendly-peer-review’.  Certainly friends and colleagues have read prior articles and provided comments, but this time around I asked for help in a more systematic manner.  The result was a much better article with perspectives that would never considered or with bad bits beaten out with bats.

Thank you for the Use of Your Brain

Of course no good deed ever goes unpunished and to that end, the following are folks who have helped me with the friendly-peer-review.  Hopefully I can return the favor in the future.  Also, if you are on the list and are logging this as professional development, feel free to refer to this post and notice below.

Person

Organization

Aaron F. Alberta Health Services
Conor O. IAEA
Leanord T. Deloitte Canada
Neel G. IAEA
Neil P. Government of Alberta
Richard I. Government of Alberta
Shawn M. Western Economic Diversification Canada
Steven S. World Intellectual Property Organization
Stewart S. Private Contractor
Terry E. Private Contractor

To whom it may concern, the above individuals were asked to perform a friendly-peer review of an article intended to be published in the Financial Management Institute of Canada journal, FMI*IGF Journal. The estimated time to perform this review was between 2 to 3 hours. All of the above individuals demonstrated a firm grasp of the subject matter and helped to createnet-new original thought and critique through this peer-review which will be reflected in the final article. I welcome contact if further confirmation is required.

LinkedIn – Do I have a Deal for YOU!

Dear LinkedIn, I am a big fan of your product and I have a deal which I think will make both of us fantastically RICH! Okay, it might make you slightly better off and it will save me some time… which in today’s world is the equivalent of getting rich.

I noticed today that you have the ability for members to add courses, great! I have yet to come up with a good way to track my courses. In addition, I have an obligation to my accounting designation to complete professional development. As a soon to be CPA, this will become even more important.  My idea, why not add a few fields next to the course information? They may be things like:

  1. Is this course in support of a professional designation(s)?
  2. How many professional hours was this?
  3. Send to your profession(s) as part of the yearly reporting?

With this functionality, as I take courses throughout the year, I will add them to my profile. They will be appended to my LinkedIn resume information. Then, when it is time to pay my professional dues, I press a button and – BAM – LinkedIn will send the course information to my professional association.  When I took it, hours, where, certification, perhaps even a scan of the certificate (insert details about privacy, membership number, yada, yada, yada – here).

Value Proposition

  • Everyone is happy here.  I am a happy LinkedIn user because you have just solved a major pain in the ASSETS for me – tracking my courses.
  • My profession(s) are happy because they get a consistent and timely reporting of their member’s professional development.
  • You are happy because you just gave me one more reason to not jump to the next big social media thing. Heck, I might even be willing to pay for that feature (if the price is right).

So there you go LinkedIn my idea.  As an aside, I would suggest piloting this with the new CPA designation here in Canada.  The chapters are starting on the ground floor and are looking for innovative ways to show the value of the merger of the legacy designations.

There you go – my idea.  So, can my people call your people about it….