Numerous EO Nashville Members write local columns. David Waddell writes a column for the Memphis Daily News. The Tennessean has tapped into EO Nashville talent including Julie May, Alex Talbot, J.J. Rosen, Ben Hanback, James Fields, and Jeff Turner. Julie May also pens blogs for the Nashville Business Journal as has Greg Greenwall and Tom Turner.
Here is a sampling of recently published columns:
Lack of communication, planning bring trouble
For The Tennessean
Healthcare.gov has been labeled a “miserably frustrating experience,” a “flawed launch” and a “debacle.” You can say that again.
Healthcare.gov isn’t just a website — it’s a health care marketplace. It’s the integration of several software systems that should allow you to shop for health insurance and determine whether you qualify for a subsidy. For this to happen, previously existing systems and those created for this project have to work together seamlessly.
Integrating several systems together is a typical request made of software vendors. So, $400 million later, how did the launch of Healthcare.gov go so awry?
Here are four reasons this project ended up as a lose-lose-lose situation for the stakeholders, users and vendors.
1. Lack of effective communication. When the three guiding expectations of a software development project — budget, project deliverables and timeline — are out of sync, the risk of project failure increases exponentially. To keep these expectations in alignment, there must be continuous and efficient communication between all parties. To rise to this level, communication must be two-way, disciplined and transparent throughout all phases of discovery, design, implementation and deployment.
Unfortunately, it appears that communication was ineffective during the Healthcare.gov project. All parties involved in the project should have provided regular updates and financial tracking throughout development. Weekly glimpses of progress on outcomes should also have been provided. Failure to do so caused trouble.
2. Too little or too much planning. Sometimes you can over-plan an IT project to the point of paralysis by analysis. However, this is not the case with Healthcare.gov, where it seems that there was not enough planning.
Reports indicate the primary vendor was awarded the contract in December 2011. This initiated due diligence by the selected vendors, who began researching the decisions surrounding the application — a process that in this case lasted about 12 to 14 months.
Reports also indicate that actual programming didn’t begin until spring 2013, meaning it took more than a year after the awarding of the contract for a meager six months worth of coding to occur. To add to these challenges, changes in the specifications at the core of the application were still being made as late as September, less than a month before the application was to be launched to a national audience. The coders were developing to a moving target.
This timeframe didn’t permit a thorough integration process or a gradual geographical rollout, both of which would have allowed for a full vetting of the application to stress test it and uncover bugs and hiccups in the experience. Yowza, what a critical misstep.
3. Lack of oversight. How could anyone successfully manage 55 vendors who are all trying to develop an application — one that’s meant to be a cohesive aggregation of multiple databases — for a national rollout in six months?
I would have told those vendors to turn and run the other way and make it snappy no matter how much they were getting compensated.
4. Lack of supporting process. There are so many elements we could discuss here, but the most obvious is the lack of efficient testing.
People believe testing is optional. I’m here to tell you, and I think the Healthcare.gov conundrum is ironclad proof, that testing is anything but optional. You should always include time and money in your project budget for testing.
In this case, testing was completely behind schedule and most likely incomplete. In fact, the lack of testing has classified this site as a high security risk. The site our government is running is currently operating under a temporary security certificate.
We should anticipate more delays or a different rollout strategy to come.
No matter what side of the political fence you sit on, don’t hold your breath waiting for Healthcare.gov and the online health care marketplace to be a superior shopping experience. My history in this industry tells me that this recent fiasco is just the tip of the iceberg.
Manage priorities Instead of Time
For The Tennessean
Unless you’re Marty McFly and have keys to the Delorean, stop focusing on time management.
Time management is a waste of time because it’s impossible. Hear me out. Time is going to pass regardless of what you or I do. Management implies the ability to control. Since we cannot control time, we cannot manage it. Stop trying.
What we can do though is focus on what we can control — our priorities. Priority management is the new and improved time management. Here are four steps to mange your priorities successfully within the time constraints we’re all stuck with.
• Choose wisely. You only have so many ticks on the clock. Make sure you give your time to what is important rather than urgent. Important items are aligned with your short- and long-term goals, whereas urgent matters are typically distractions that usurp your time and derail you from forward progress. If you want to reach your goals, don’t be a victim of urgency.
• Narrow your focus. Bill Gates said, “Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in 10 years.” We get so excited about our current, long to-do lists and big ideas that we forget to chart, deconstruct and focus on attainable priorities that could lead us to something bigger in the long-term.
The key is to balance your to-do list with manageable priorities. This way you nurture your short-term tasks and long-term priorities. Taper your focus to only a few priorities at a time — I suggest three per quarter. It’s easier said than done, but I guarantee the additional focus will propel you to achieving substantial long-term goals.
• Schedule. Once you have your priorities set, it’s time to block off focused periods of time for each of them. I recommend 90-minute time frames. (If you’re not willing to dedicate 90 minutes, then your priority may not actually be a priority.) Block these chunks of time and protect them with your life.
Don’t allow yourself to go over or under that block of time because if that time block is flexible, you may allow yourself to be inefficient with that time. You must set parameters for yourself.
• Measure. Create a way to measure your progress along the path to priority completion. What gets measured gets done.
If your name is Doc Brown and figuring out time travel is your goal, then by all means break the process down into manageable priorities and spend 90 minutes a day on each of them and be the first to break the time continuum. However, if your name is not Doc Brown and you’re not aiming to break the time continuum, focus on priorities you can manage.
Three reasons employers will shift to individual health coverage
For The Tennessean
Will the rising cost of health insurance cause my employer to drop its group health plan?
Under health care reform, this question has plagued employees, spouses and employers. Health insurance is a security blanket for many, and the threat of employers moving to individual coverage feels disconcerting, even devastating, to some.
Change of any sort creates anxiety, but especially when it affects expecting mothers, people with a serious illness and parents of small children.
There are three reasons small employers, especially ones with fewer than 50 employees, will shift to individual coverage:
1. Changing subsidies: Before health care reform, health insurance subsidies were available only at the group level. They came in the form of not paying taxes on the cost of group health insurance. Now, under health care reform, subsidies encourage individual coverage. If you make less than 400 percent of the poverty line wage and your employer doesn’t offer a qualified health plan, you qualify for direct government subsidies. These direct subsidies for individual insurance are more visible than the subsidies for group coverage, because they come in the form of a direct government payment to help pay for premiums. At the group level, the subsidy is less direct as it is in the form of avoiding paying taxes on money spent on group health insurance. This change is one factor that will push employers to shift to individual coverage.
2. More plan designs: There are now at least 53 percent more BlueCross BlueShield plans available in the individual market than in the under-50 employer group market. If you look at the options across all insurance companies, this difference only multiplies. Industry insiders know it is nearly impossible for a small employer to pick one or two plans that fit all employees’ needs because no two are created equal.
There’s the 45-year-old employee who had a child with a serious illness, the 22-year-old with minimal health insurance needs, and everyone in between.
By shifting from a group plan to helping employees with individual plans, small employers will enable their people to get plans more tailored to their needs.
3. More networks: On the individual market, there is an additional BlueCross network, Network E, that is not available on the group market. This network is much more affordable than BlueCross’ P network or its S network. This means that employees have more-affordable options available to them if their employer drops the group plan than if it maintains it.
For example, let’s look at a 40-year-old nonsmoker in Nashville. The premiums in the P network for the exact same plan design are 31 percent more expensive than in the E network. But she can’t pick the E network through her employer.
This is just another factor that is going to cause many employers to decide to shift away from group coverage.
The advent of the health insurance marketplaces presents a huge opportunity for health care consumers. All the rules have changes. As a result, ideas such as dropping the group plan, which historically would have caused anxiety, are now the smart move for many employers.
The bottom line is that there has never been a better opportunity for taking some time to really explore the options.
'9-to-5' workday is becoming obsolete
For The Tennessean
Remember way back when, when the phrase “9-to-5” described the typical workday? Times are changing. The Internet and mobile technology have made it possible to work at any time from any place, making the concept of the 9-to-5 office all but obsolete. But workforce mobilization is more than just providing employees with a cellphone plan.
Finding a “workforce mobilization” approach that embraces the productivity advantages of constant connectivity without setting up a culture of overwhelmed workaholics is tricky. However, when done correctly, employers and employees alike can benefit.
A variety of technologies supports our new mobile workforce. Solutions such as “virtual desktop infrastructure” and “unified communications” have helped to enable a seamless work environment.
Many times in the past we’d be tied to our office computers because we needed access to a special program or data source. Today’s virtual desktop infrastructures enable users to access a secure office environment from home or while traveling, using any desktop/laptop/mobile device.
If you hear the term unified communications, think one-click audio/video/chat. Whether at the office, at home, traveling or even on vacation you’re just a click away from instant communication. This flexibility gives your employees tremendous freedom and can help extend your pool of potential employee candidates from local to global.
Whether your remote employees are working from a satellite office, home or a coffee house, there are best practices in setting up or converting to a more intentional Mobile office culture:
• The more you put in the cloud, the better. Leveraging the scalability and security of large cloud providers such as Amazon and Microsoft has become the most efficient, reliable way to support workers in different locations. Hosting your servers, files and applications in the cloud gives you an immediate and affordable high-end infrastructure.
• Collaboration is key. Remote employees must be able to work together and communicate in the same way they would if they shared a physical office. Tools such as Microsoft SharePoint, Microsoft Lync, Office 365 and Google Apps can be set up to allow people to collaborate in ways that are often more efficient than sitting next to one another.
• Security should be a priority. Mitigating risks is a key part of any IT system. Allowing remote access to critical business systems helps productivity, but it must always be auditable and secure.
Workforce mobilization can change company profits and employee lives. Employees and employers should embrace it as the new norm to compete. Creating the technical infrastructure to optimize remote workers is affordable and has a true return on investment.
Wearable tech is more than just a fad
For The Tennessean
With the early-September release of Samsung’s Galaxy Gear smartwatch, the expected 2014 public release of Google Glass and the will-it-ever-happen talk about Apple iWatch, wearable technology has been in the news a lot lately.
Some of the coverage has been less than favorable, with columns pointing out problems such as clunky design, short battery life and limited functionality, which the authors believe need to be addressed before mainstream adoption of wearable technology can become a reality.
In my opinion, these issues are mere hiccups.
• Clunky design: Whether you belong to the camp that thinks Google Glass looks nerdy chic or the camp that thinks it looks flat-out ugly, initial designs of wearable tech leave much to be desired. But that won’t keep people from adopting it.
Ten years ago it would have looked ridiculous and ueber-nerdy to see someone staring captivatingly at a 4-inch computer screen while seated at a restaurant. Now it is the norm.
When early adopters begin wearing smartwatches and smartglasses, they’ll become trendy despite their slightly clunky design. Software developers will need to continue to work with designers to adapt the look and functionality of these newer wearable techanologies though, lest they fall trap to the ear mullets Bluetooth headsets aesthetic. Those can look ridiculous.
• Battery life: The battery in wearable devices such as smartwatches contributes to the “clunky design” problem, but when you make the battery slimmer, you also decrease its life.
This isn’t a new tech problem, nor is it something special to wearable devices. I’m typing this on a laptop and constantly checking its battery meter. My iPhone rarely makes it a full day on a single charge.
Brilliant engineers are working tirelessly on battery technology and wireless charging, and mobile tech — including wearable tech — will benefit immensely from this research.
• Limited functionality: The argument that smart devices don’t add much functionality beyond what a smartphone already does misses the point entirely. Wearables will soon replace your smartphone. Or, your smartphone will soon be something you wear, not something you carry. The smartwatches and smartglasses are simply an evolutionary step in this process.
In 1990, if you wanted to learn who won the World Series in 1907 or the scientific name of okra — Chicago Cubs and Abelmoschus esculentus — you would have to physically travel from your house to a library and dig through reference books until you found the facts.
Thanks to widespread adoption of the Internet in the mid-1990s, much of this information became available at the push of a button, just as long as you had a computer connected to a phone line in your home or office.
Now, it seems nearly everyone has a smartphone and a world of information is a pocket grab away.
As a consumer, it doesn’t make sense to fight wearable tech. Fitness and wellness technologies such as Nike+ FuelBand and FitBit demonstrate very digestible ways that regular folks are already wearing technology.
In 2000, it would be hard to imagine that in 2013 middle schoolers would have pocket devices that allowed them to wirelessly connect to almost everyone and everything in the world for only a few dollars a day. Who knows what 2026 will bring.
Life is all about relationships
For The Tennessean
When my wife, Brittany, and I moved to Nashville in 1998, we immediately fell in love with the country music scene and became regulars on Lower Broadway and at The Bluebird Cafe.
We went to a Halloween party that year with one of my colleagues, Sadler Norris, and his friend. That friend was from Phoenix and had moved to Nashville to break into country music. Over the next three or four years, we followed that friend from bar to bar, supporting his music and his dream to make it in the relentless Nashville music business.
Fast-forward to New Year’s Eve just a few years later at Bridgestone Arena, and there was our friend, Dierks Bentley, onstage. Bentley yelled to the crowd that this wasn’t his first gig on New Year’s Eve in Nashville — that, in fact, he’d played across the street at dinner the previous year for Ben Hanback and his friends — and then thanked us for our support!
Hands down, the greatest assets you have as a business professional are your relationships. Life is really a network, and you have to treat your friends, clients and vendors as if you’ll have a relationship with them forever. You never know when you can help a friend, or when a relationship will benefit you down the road.
Here are some simple tips to solidify and ensure your relationships will be around for years to come.
1. Be there for the good times (and the bad):It’s easy to celebrate when things are going great, but when times are tough, true colors often show through.
When my friends and clients are in a career transition, I actually write an unsolicited letter of recommendation. If they lose a job — or decide to make a career move — I prepare two copies of that letter.
I let them know they can count on me as a business and personal reference, or simply for support. When times are tough, your friends or clients want to know you’re there for them. Be there.
2. “Thank you” notes and birthdays:I’m going to sound like a broken record, but I still sit down at the end of the week and thank my new relationships and current clients with a nice note. Ask any of my friends or clients, and they’ll tell you the last — and sometimes only — birthday card they received this year was from me. Now, think about it. The U.S. Postal Service is about to stop service on Saturdays, and the average American gets only one piece of handwritten mail every seven weeks. Make sure that piece is from you.
3. Build bridges (don’t burn them):Some people will say it’s easy to dismiss a relationship and move on. But I find it to be much the opposite. I make it a point to make sure I’m connecting with and introducing folks to one another — especially those I think may benefit each other down the road. I’m a member of the Entrepreneur’s Organization, and we have a regular discussion called “Needs and Leads.”
This is a way to tap into one another’s business relationship and experiences, and fill a void that may exist in your business. Think about all your relationships and how you can help someone else fill a relationship gap that could benefit his or her business.
4. The circle of trust: I love the scene in “Meet the Parents” where Robert DeNiro explains the circle of trust to Ben Stiller. As I’ve grown in my business career, my circle of trust has been invaluable. I received advice early on to always maintain a close group of colleagues — I affectionately refer to them as FOBs (Friends of Ben). These will be folks you can count on throughout your career. Your own FOBs will be the people you count on for reinforcement and support as you grow. Choose wisely and keep them close. It’ll pay off when you least expect it.
My friend Dierks Bentley has a song out called “I Hold On.” It is about keeping your family, country and friends close, no matter how life changes. Keep this message in mind, because it’s not just a great country song, it’s a way to live your life, run your business and treat your clients.
Fall storm season more dangerous
For The Tennessean
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Storm Prediction Center reports 54 tornadoes have been confirmed on Halloween Day over the past six decades. This statistic lends further evidence that October marks the beginning of the fall tornado season, which is often more dangerous than the spring tornado season (running from March to June) as most individuals aren’t prepared for severe weather during the fall.
Here are a few tips that will help you and your family stay prepared throughout this storm season.
Storm shelters that meet industry safety standards are the safest option for keeping you and your family safe during a tornado. If you don’t have a storm shelter, find a room in your home that’s at the lowest level possible, preferably underground with no windows, such as a basement. If you don’t have a basement, find an interior space, such as a small closet under the stairs or a bathroom, that puts as many walls as possible between you and the exterior of your home.
Practice exiting to your safe room with your family, and designate a place and time to wait and meet up after the storm, should you become separated from your family.
Pack an emergency kit that includes:
• A pair of sturdy shoes or boots — often you and your family members will be in a hurry to retreat to your safe place and you may not be wearing shoes.
• Fully charged cellphone(s).
• A blanket — both for warmth and to shield you and your family from debris.
• Battery-powered flashlights and glow sticks in case the power goes out.
• A weather radio — we recommend always keeping the radio plugged in near your safe place so you can turn it on and j