Name it

Give your practice a name that's in keeping with your culture and your industry focus. It's part and parcel in this field to chose a name that's fun, funky, and a bit offbeat: Loosetooth, The Grove Consultants, Discovery Doodles, AlphaChimp, Ink Factory, ImageThink, etc.. When I chose "Lizard Brain Solutions," I was referencing the fight or flight response of the limbic system triggered by the visual cortex... not to mention that my wife's name is "Liz" and my name is "Brian," and the company that gave me my start, "SENSA Solutions." When I chose "Visioneering" for OGSystems' graphic facilitation practice, I was blending "visuals," the common language of the new team, with the OGSystems' "engineering" core competency.

To get you thinking, here's a random visualization practice name generator, made up of pieces of all of the company names in the International Forum of Visual Practitioners. Just open it up and hit F9 to make a name. 

Lauren's Discovery Questions

Here's a fantastic list of questions for a discovery meeting from Lauren Green:

·       Logistics:

o   Who’s in the room?

§  Leaders / Sponsor

§  Participants

o   Facilitators / collaborators

·       What…?

o   Event type

o   Event title

o   Overall event

·       When…?

o   Date / time

o   Duration

·       Where…?

o   Location

o   In person vs. virtual

·       Client Needs:

o   What…?

§  Is my role

§  Is the desired deliverable (information / graphic / model)

§  Do you hope will happen

§  Are the desired outcomes

§  Do you have so far (norming….)

o   Is some of the history of group or situation

§  Changes have you seen

§  Current State

·       How / Approach Design

o   Anything that you want to make sure is included?

o   Activities that you’ve tried or routines

o   Offer: graphic facilitation (team-building / strategy / design) GR, sketchnotes, graphic design

o   Put together a recommended approach

·       Personal Questions

o   Will I learn something?

o   Am I taking away someone else’s learning opportunity?

o   Is there respect present?

o   Hidden agendas?

o   What do my instincts tell me?

·       Consultant Needs

o   Is there enough time to prepare and enough time to achieve the desired outcomes?

o   Do I have access to the right information?

o   Do I have the support from leadership?

o   Do I have the right level of participation from the client

o   Is confidentiality being maintained?

o   Will there be an opportunity to give / receive feedback on the end resul

Joint Ownership

from Seth Godin - 

Joint ownership

Before you create intellectual property (a book, a song, a patent, the words on a website, a design) with someone else, agree in writing about who owns what, who can exploit it, what happens to the earnings, who can control its destiny.

This is sometimes an uncomfortable conversation to have, but it's far worse to have it later, after the thing you've created has been shown to have value.

It's almost impossible to efficiently split a soup dumpling after it's been cooked...

When to charge by the hour - from Seth Godin

I usually do an hours build up in my proposals, but sometimes this gets me into trouble when clients say, "Well, spend less time on it, so I don't don't have to pay you as much." An thus begins a painful back and forth  where I have to explain why what they want will take the hours I've estimated. This year, I'm going to experiment with itemizing proposals without hours just to see if that's what causes the pushback... Or if it's just clients who like to negotiate. 

Below, Seth Godin does a fantastic job of explaining why an hour build up is a bad idea for professionals. 

--Brian

 Most professionals ought to charge by the project, because it's a project the customer wants, not an hour.

Surgery, for example. I don't want it to last a long time, I just want it to work. Same with a logo or website design.

Or house painting. The client is buying a painted house, not your time.

One exception: If the time is precisely what I'm buying, then charging by the time is the project. Freudian therapy, say, or a back massage.

Another exception: If the client has the ability to change the spec, again and again, and the hassle of requoting a project cost is just too high for both parties. A logo design, for example, probably starts with project pricing, but if the client keeps sending you back for revisions, at some point, they're buying your time, aren't they?

Seth Godin 

Decision Model

You can't do everything. There are lots of ideas, but only so many hours in the day. Having a solid, explicit model for decisions will keep your team on track and focused on the right things. 

As a team, brainstorm where new requests are coming from. Which do you say yes to? Why would you say no? Design a simple process diagram that visualizes the criteria you come up with and how requests flow through that criteria. 

Some criteria to consider: 

  • Does this serve an existing client?
  • Could this turn into repeat business?
  • Is this a service you CAN provide or WANT to provide? (There's a difference: the answer to both questions should be a strong yes.) 
  • Is the price right? 
  • Is the right person available?
Example of a Decision Model

There's two best practices in the example above. One is a buffer, which is a statement that provides an air break between the request and the response so that you can check with the team and decide together if this is something you should support. Check out Essentialism by Greg McKeown for more ideas on managing time.

The other practice is a Best Athlete chart.

Core Values

Once your team has worked together for a while, establish your Core Values.

Core Values serve as guiding principles for behaviors of a team of high-performing individuals. In general, they govern how individuals present themselves, how they relate to each other, how they manage work, and how they build their practice. They are short statements that begin, “We (verb.)” For example:

  • We own the outcome by finding and filling gaps.
  • We assume noble intent.
  • We hold the space for others to be successful.
  • We practice abundance, sharing our time, talents, and knowledge freely with others.
  • We co-create from our strengths.
  • We ask “why” and “what if” questions.

Core Values tap into individuals’ most personal motivators. They should touch the nerves of those that write and read them. They are profoundly meaningful to those that share them.

Unlike other group processes, there is no clustering, categorization, or conflation. After carefully framing the conversation, participants look within themselves and simply write statements that are deeply meaningful to them on individual stickies. They read the Core Value, then place them on a common wall. In doing so, they are tacitly agreeing to hold themselves accountable to the behavior implicit in the Core Value. Others likewise agree to exhibit the same behavior. Core Values aren’t polished or edited, but remain exactly as they were written so as to maintain a connection with the writer, who becomes the advocate of that behavior.

Core Values aren’t for forming teams. They are for teams that have already had some time functioning together. When I facilitate this exercise, I can tell what kind of team I’m dealing with based on how they handle it. Those that debate each other on Core Values are still forming. Those that silently nod their agreement and accept the standards of the Core Values are the high-performers. 

The best way to bring Core Values into practice is for each team member to keep them in a place where they are immediately “zero-click” accessible. That way, they can serve to guide decisions through ambiguity and uncertainty. In practice, when Core Values are being used, teams realize that most tough decisions and wicked problems have already been decided by the Core Values.

Core Values are living documents and should be revisited whenever the team resets itself. A Core Values exercise can be facilitated in less than an hour.

Space Matters

Visualization needs space. Ideally, several spaces.

Facilitation Space: This is the most obvious, but it can be the hardest to come by. It's difficult to get a space that works for all the different kinds of engagements you'd want to have AND is permanently assigned to you. If the facility doesn't have a permanent facilitation space, get used to using portable walls. 

The best spaces are flexible, modular, and open, with long, uninterrupted walls for your paper. Think: racquetball courts... with carpeting and better acoustics. And hopefully not as smelly. With chairs and tables on casters, you can reposition the room as the agenda calls for. 

My favorite layout has a circle of chairs for plenary sessions (no tables) AND elsewhere in the room, pods of tables with seating for 4-to-6 for breakout groups. 

Board room-style conference tables are the WORST. They're big, heavy, immovable, and are horrible for group breakouts. Participants can't even see each other on a board room-style conference table. 

Storage Space: This is a stuff-intensive business. You're going to need to store complete and work-in-progress charts, easels and portable walls, new rolls of paper and flipcharts, other materials like ink and markers, plus all the stuff for participants, like stickies, pens, and activities. And have plenty of bookcases for all the books, binders, cards, and other materials you're sure to collect.

Studio Space: A place for you to work digitally and on the wall. I like a studio to have my desktop computer with a ridiculously-sized monitor (or monitors), an 11x17" printer and scanner close by, a light table, and room to at least prepare a 4'x10.5' chart.

Photo Space: The cheapest way to digitize charts is to photograph them. Most visual practitioners photograph their charts on the spot. I find that lighting on site can be uneven and a struggle to correct. I have a large wall dedicated to photographing charts, with movable lights to minimize drop off. Nothing fancy: it's just two 4' fluorescent shop lights suspended from the ceiling and aimed at the chart wall. It's low tech, but it works. Eventually, you might get to the point where you can justify a chart scanner, but those suckers cost upwards of 16k.

Video Space: Specifically, for action sketches. Simple is better. I like to draw on paper as opposed to whiteboards, so my set up is smaller than most. One of my 4' shop lights pulls double duty here, illuminating a drafting table. I have a camera attached to a lighting stand above the table. That's it. 

Storing & Sorting Charts

After spending the weekend auditing nearly five years' worth of charts, I came to appreciate how important it is to have a good organizing system. Even with the general policy of returning charts to the client, leftover charts can pile up fast.

I have several rolling wire chart racks (also known as wire roll files) similar to this one. Each rack is dedicated to a category of chart:

  • Unused, new, ready-to-grab paper rolls
  • Paper remnants left over from other jobs for practice, video scribes, or small jobs
  • Portfolio-worthy examples to use as demonstrations or for teaching
  • Graphic templates, mostly the Grove's Strategic Visioning templates
  • Finished charts, ready to be returned to the client
  • Active charts: works in progress or charts that are part of a long-term engagement

The rest get recycled. When in doubt, throw it out (and I mean recycle.)

The long, cardboard boxes that new rolls come in are like gold. They're great for shipping or storing many charts at a time. 

Draft a Charter

A charter can take the form of a negotiation with the champion of the practice. Here are some things to agree to, in addition to the basics of compensation:

  • Term: how long do you estimate it will take to build a fully self-sustaining practice? Three years is pretty safe. Set that expectation up front so there would be no surprises, and so that your transition out once the practice is up and running is smoothly. Also set the expectation to potentially continue as hourly or independent contractor after the end of the term.
  • If you'll be bringing your own existing business into the practice, strike the non-compete clause.
  • If you'll be bringing in your existing network of collaborators and you want to continue to work with them after the fact, strike the "no headhunting" clause.
  • Depending on your hiring agreement, you may request to be allowed to continue to work for your own company during the term.
  • Report directly to the CEO. Reporting to a program manager can short-sight the work and focus you on contract work at the expense of building the practice.
  • Avoid having a utilization target: you are in start-up mode, and you're proving value of the practice to the company, which is hard to do if you're primarily client-facing.
  • Include a budget for materials: paper, markers, ink , tape, etc.
  • Include a budget for training, like IFVP attendance.
  • Include a budget for business development (meals, travel, etc.)
  • Include a budget for computer hardware and software, such as Apple monitors, Microsoft Surfaces, Cintiqs, scanner/printers which can print 11x17 paper, and the Adobe Creative Suite.
  • Be clear on expectations about where you'll work. Chances are, you have a home studio with more capabilities than the office. 
  • Also, lay out some of the ethics of facilitation to set out the expectation of how you will show up in meetings, which is to say, advocating the process, not the outcome or any specific course of action or agenda.

Finally, include the core elements of your job: building a visualization practice. That means developing three things: the services you provide, the training you offer, and the intellectual property you design and publish.

Begin with a Vision

Before you do anything else, create a vision. A clear, concise, memorable vision will serve you throughout the stand up of your practice. It is your own job description. It clarifies what tasks you should (and should not) take on. It is what what ultimately will win you buy-in and sponsorship from leadership.

The vision is not for marketing purposes. It should not be crammed with adjectives, big words and consultant-speak. Everyone on the team should be able to instantly recall the vision.  Keep it short.

The vision should be ambitious enough inspire motivated people to join your team. It should reflect a higher purpose than dollars and cents. Like the NASA janitor who said, "I'm helping to put a man on the moon," it should unify the raison d'etre for everyone on the team.

And of course, the best vision is visual. A good exercise is to have each individual on your team create a mindmap with the vision at its core, branching out their own unique interpretation of what that means. That creates meaning and connection for the vision to each individual making it their own. And creating a single mindmap with each team member's perspective is a powerful visual. 

But again, the real value of the vision is that it ultimately defines what you're trying to achieve - a story you'll have to tell over and over as you grow the practice.

Example visions:

  • Build a world-class visualization practice
  • Enhance [the core business] through visuals
  • Be the go-to visualization practice in [pick a locale, pick an industry]
  • Serve [pick a clientele] through visuals
  • Turn everything into a picture