The FT Word – August 2006

The FT Word

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Welcome to the August 2006 issue of the FT Word. Thank you for sharing it with your colleagues to continue to spread best practices in support.

Topics for this month:

  • Export compliance – how to stay within the law on your support web site
  • Running a successful planning meeting – getting ready for 2007

Export Compliance

Thanks to Joseph Urban for suggesting this topic.

If you export products from the US you need to know about the US laws around export compliance. In a nutshell, the government expects you to “know your customer” and to deny sales to countries or individuals that are flagged as forbidden. Why should we support professionals be concerned export legislation? Because we routinely “export” software in the form of downloads on our web sites. Even product documentation for sensitive products (see below) may qualify as a prohibited transaction.

You probably do not need to worry about export compliance if you:

  • sell desktop software only, and
  • do business in countries such as the UK, Germany, France, and most other classic first-world countries. (Remember that if you do business from a web site you are in fact in a position to trade with any country in the world!)   Double-check with your legal counsel that you can enjoy NLR (no license required) status.

On the other hand, you probably need to consult an expert if you:   ·

intend to sell products to Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Serbia, Montenegro (the list changes from time to time and includes diplomatic personnel of those countries that reside in the US) or ·

  • sell products that have military applications or
  • sell products related to nuclear power or
  • distribute encryption software

If you belong to any of the categories above, check with your friendly legal counsel for details. In a nutshell, here are some of the precautions you would want to take:

  • confirm the identity of your clients, including their location; anyone located in a country that’s on the “embargoed” list should be denied
  • check your client list against a vast number of export control lists, confusingly maintained by a number of different government agencies. For instance, there’s the Denied Persons List (DPL) maintained by the Bureau of Industry and Security and the Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) list maintained by the Office of Foreign Asset Control
  • carefully distinguish bug fixes (which can usually be downloaded freely by carefully screened owners of your products) versus enhancements, which would require a security check as described above

Bottom line: check with your legal counsel to see whether you can be subject to export compliance and listen carefully to what you’re told.

Running a Successful Planning Meeting

Many of us will run planning meetings in the next months to prepare for 2007. Was your last planning meeting a roaring success? If not, perhaps this checklist will help.

1. Plan in advance

Don’t just show up and hope to accomplish something. For one thing, most people do better if they have time to think through a topic, and many managers will want to consult their teams ahead of time. Finally, some dedicated souls will want to gather data ahead of time. Allow for that.

2. Invite the right people

Most planning meetings I’ve attended include too many people. Don’t just invite the usual suspects before they were there the last time. Only include people who have a meaningful contribution to the discussion or the decision-making process. (Hint: in general, do not invite managers and their direct reports). If you need certain individuals only for a few specific sessions, invite them just for that time.

3. Set goals for the meeting

Having a clear deliverable will help clarify everyone’s thinking. Are you just brainstorming, or will you commit to specific goals, milestones, and metrics? Will you be defining the overall strategy or will you focus on a specific issue? (You could be both but you need to decide in advance.) The goals will define your format so make sure they are very clear.

4. Create a realistic agenda

All of us have attended meetings that royally allocated 10 minutes to “agree on support engineers’ targets for next year”. What are the chances of that happening? Any substantial topic is going to require at least 30 minutes, more if it’s complicated, contentious, or your team is large.

How do you avoid marathon meetings? Make clever use of breakout sessions. Plan them ahead of time to ensure cross-representation and ask the breakout participants to report back to the larger team for feedback and approval.

Remember human needs. Allow for breaks throughout the day. I personally like several short breaks that keep the focus on the task at hand, together with a substantial evening break before dinner to take care of urgent business. Plan for water, coffee, and healthy snacks. Allow unstructured small group time if the team members don’t see each other often. And keep the meeting to no more than 2 or 3 days: energy and enthusiasm flag after that.

5. Pick the right venue

Traditional wisdom says to hold planning meetings offsite, but an onsite venue can work very well with a bit of discipline. If you can, use a remote office for the comforts of home without the interruptions – and it’s “free”. Go for comfort but not lavishness: what signal are you sending to the larger team if you plan cost cutting at the Ritz Hotel?

6. Use flexible teamwork

Encourage everyone to have their say. You can hire or designate a facilitator to ensure everyone has a voice. And don’t systematically end discussions with the most senior exec making a decision. There’s no surer way to end productive discussions. Require fair play: attack ideas, not people. Here again a good facilitator will kindly but firmly restate the rules as needed.

7. Be efficient

My pet peeve about meetings has to be long PowerPoint presentations (especially when the lights are dimmed, right after lunch…) Try PowerPoint-less presentations if your staff will play along. At a minimum, prescribe a maximum time for each session as well as a maximum number of slides. And stick to it! Require a deliverable for all discussion sessions. If you find that you are running long and the topic warrants it, immediately adjust the schedule. Most planning meetings derail in the first half-day and never recover. Having a skilled meeting facilitator on hand will help you run the meeting

8. Get agreement

Open discussions are wonderful, but they should all end with a decision or an action item. Leverage the fact that the team is together to gather commitment on the spot. Assign owners, due dates, and metrics to each action item or initiative. On the other hand, don’t try to boil the ocean: if you have lots of good ideas pick a reasonable number to act on and place the rest on the waiting list. Lengthy to-do lists are a recipe for inaction

9. Consider inviting an outside expert

Yes, you can have a wonderful and productive meeting with your team. In some circumstances a fresh view should be a big help. Consider these situations:

  • The team is well-established and few new ideas are being generated.
  • The team is inexperienced and could use some guidance.
  • The team is undergoing great change.
  • There are internal tensions and a neutral party can help work through them or despite them.

Good luck with your planning meetings! For more information on what to include in strategic planning exercises, see the FT Works booklet Managing Support Strategically.

FT Works in the News

SSPA News published an article I wrote entitled Maintaining a Cohesive Team Across Borders. You can read it at For more ideas about managing global operations, see A Big, Happy, Multicultural Family?

Curious about something? Send me your suggestions for topics and your name will appear in future newsletters. I’m thinking of doing a compilation of “tips and tricks about support metrics” in the coming months so if you have favorites, horror stories, or questions about metrics, please don’t be shy.

Françoise Tourniaire
FT Works
650 559 9826

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