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Have you ever sat in a large conference room with 35 other people — particularly opinionated, type-A people — and tried to make a big decision? Last month, our BlueTree internal team spent 3.5 dedicated hours in a basement conference room with no windows to achieve two goals: (1) draft a company mission statement that reflects who we are and what’s important to us, and (2) renew and update our company values to ensure we always have a strong spine.

You’re probably thinking, “Why would you attempt that with 35 people? Why would you do it in a basement? Was there at least pizza?” There was breakfast, but it arrived 90 minutes late… and we included 35 people because we knew every person would bring something to the table, and we didn’t want to limit the potential by choosing participants at random or by title. (And ultimately, we knew we could do it.)

Our approach involved breaking our team of 35 into seven groups of five. Each group was tasked with drawing a coat of arms that represented our company (what we do, what we stand for, what we believe in…the “coat” could be made of anything), followed by tweaking and narrowing our existing list of values in an iterative process. The theory was that at lunchtime we’d walk out the door high-fiving and tweeting our hearts out.

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John Flannery - Vice President of Operations

In October 2014 I initiated a blog series discussing strategies used by the best Epic consultants.  I can’t believe it’s already been over a year since my last post!  Apologies to any loyal readers for pulling a George R.R. Martin.

#1 – They always have an exit strategy

#2 – They swim downstream

Imagine you’re vacationing on a river cruise – acting on a dare, you recreate the famous scene from Titanic by climbing up the rail, leaning over the bow of the ship and throwing your arms wide into the wind.  As you hold the pose for Snapchat, an errant wave hits and you tumble forward into the air.  You fall a few dozen feet into murky, quickly flowing water.

Let’s ignore some of the potential variables (hypothermia, avoiding the ship’s propeller, etc) and focus on escaping the current.  In this situation, experts recommend exiting the water by swimming diagonally toward the shore, moving with the flow of the river.  Trying to swim upstream or directly perpendicular to the current creates a higher risk of exhausting the swimmer.

What’s the connection to Epic consulting?  In this analogy, the accidental swimmer is a new consultant.  The river represents the client’s culture: established processes, workflows, and politics.  And like the swimmer, the consultant needs to work within that culture, rather than fight it, to most efficiently make progress. Continue reading


Corrin Condon:   Director - Landscapes, Strategic Solutions

Is your project plan bloated?  Does your team allocation spreadsheet make you dizzy just to look at it?  At the same time, do your colleagues request more data, constantly ask you what the milestones are, and what’s the status?

Don’t get me wrong, as a project manager, I secretly love creating a beautiful project plan with linked resources, forecasted work efforts, calculated dependencies, and a Gantt chart to follow.    A beautiful project plan, some would go so far as to say, is a ‘work of art.’

The problem – unnecessarily large, detailed documents can result in a clouded message.  Your readers don’t get it.  No one refers to it.  No one updates it.  You personally are still the source of the information and thus back to square one.

Your audience needs to see information relevant to them quickly and easily – or you will lose them. Documents are a communication tool to disseminate information quickly and clearly.  Documents need to be reliable–a single source of truth.  Each document needs a clear objective and a clear audience.  If your documents don’t have those attributes, your team is likely misaligned on expectations, milestones, and next steps.  Misalignment decreases productivity and increases project risk.

To get the power out of your documents, try these 5 steps to help document with a purpose. Continue reading


Document with a Purpose to Increase Team Efficiency

Is your project plan bloated? Does your team allocation spreadsheet make you dizzy just to look at it? At the same time, do your colleagues request more data, constantly ask you what the milestones are, and what’s the status?

Don’t get me wrong, as a project manager, I secretly love creating a beautiful project plan with linked resources, forecasted work efforts, calculated dependencies, and a Gantt chart to follow. A beautiful project plan, some would go so far as to say, is a ‘work of art.’

The problem – unnecessarily large, detailed documents can result in a clouded message. Your readers don’t get it. No one refers to it. No one updates it. You personally are still the source of the information and thus back to square one.

Your audience needs to see information relevant to them quickly and easily – or you will lose them. Documents are a communication tool to disseminate information quickly and clearly. Documents need to be reliable–a single source of truth. Each document needs a clear objective and a clear audience. If your documents don’t have those attributes, your team is likely misaligned on expectations, milestones, and next steps. Misalignment decreases productivity and increases project risk.

To get the power out of your documents, try these 5 steps to help document with a purpose.

Document Intervention: 5 Steps to Documenting with a Purpose

1. What’s the Point? In one sentence, describe why you are using this document. Make sure that message is clear to your audience.

2. Who Cares? Determine your core audience. Know who exactly needs the information and when they need the information.

3. Is it clear what I want them to do? Put yourself in their shoes. Why should they listen? Now what? Ensure your audience knows what to do with the information provided.

4. What’s the big picture? Sequence your project documents so they flow and work together. Watch out for cross-over and duplication. Ensure you have a single source of truth.

5. Trim the waste! Keep it simple. Reduce the number of documents you manage and reduce the non-necessary information from within each document. It saves time and reduces confusion.

Simpler is better. Make a right-sized document for the task at hand. Don’t assume a larger or a more detailed project plan is the answer to your communication woes. In some cases, your 400-line project plan should really be a five-milestone critical path plan for better impact.

The point: Good documentation can make your team more successful by increasing alignment and ultimately efficiency. Take the time to ensure you document with a purpose.


When we founded BlueTree a few short years ago, I gave myself the title of Minister of Happiness. From the beginning, we wanted BlueTree to be a different kind of company, one where employees were genuinely excited to come to work, and where they could continue to be themselves rather than switch on a “work persona”.

As MoH, it was a great honor when we were recently recognized as one of the “Best Places to Work” in Madison by Madison Magazine. In all honesty, though, it wasn’t a surprise. I see it every day – people eager to show up at the office, motivated to do exceptional work, all the while building incredible friendships. I’ve never seen anything like it.

This was a candid photograph – BlueTree employees are always smiling with our arms around one another.

This was a candid photograph – BlueTree employees are always smiling with our arms around one another.

When we were a true startup and all of us were busy doing, well, everything, it was difficult to focus time, energy, and resources on wellness. Fortunately, all of this happiness still happened simply by establishing a culture of transparency, autonomy, flexibility, collaboration, and laughs, and refusing to change our commitment to those tenets as we grew. In that sense, wellness wasn’t a program we provided, but our culture fostered it nonetheless. 

While we’re thrilled to be a top place to work, we’re even more excited to know that this is only the beginning. Now that we’ve had a few years of great success – in no small part due to our culture – we are in a position to invest once again in our people. In collaboration with Breathe For Change, we’re on the brink of launching a company-wide, holistic wellness program that we’re confident will take BlueTree employee health and happiness to a new level. In the spirit of promoting employee wellness in Madison and beyond, we’re eager to share what we’ve learned and brainstorm with other companies who are ready to rethink what a healthy workplace can look like – if that’s you, please get in touch!


Aug 2015 Blog Post

525,600 minutes. According to acclaimed musical Rent (and mathematics), it’s the amount of time we have in a single year. What do you do with your minutes? Spend them with coworkers and family? On running, and yardwork, and sleep? How about helping others? Purposeful help. Done any of that lately? Worried it might take too much time? Continue reading


Feedback: We all need to hear it and we all need to give it, yet we all know how uncomfortable it can be on both sides of the exchange. As a result, it often goes unsaid – or poorly said – and workplace problems remain or worsen.

The other day, I received some direct feedback from one of my beloved BlueTree colleagues. I appreciated it immensely and immediately sought to incorporate his pearls into my daily activities. It dawned on me that BlueTree is special in that respect – we all get along extraordinarily well, largely due to the fact that we don’t hold onto hostility or frustration; we deal with it right away, and make it an energizing, relationship-building experience rather than a stressor.

Pro Tip: if you get a face like this, there’s a chance your feedback delivery could use some work.

We’ve established this culture intentionally. From the beginning, we made it clear that experienced executives were open to hear feedback from interns. There were no walls to our openness. If leaders want to establish a collaborative, non-toxic culture, they need to live that themselves. They also need to go one step further and talk about it. Make openness part of the company dialogue, encouraging people to take risks and be direct and honest with one another, even – or especially – when it’s uncomfortable.

The onus is on employees as well. Particularly in the Midwest where we’re known for being less direct, providing any feedback whatsoever can be seen as “mean” or “aggressive.” But the alternative is far more damaging. Not giving feedback leads to resentment, which either festers within, or spills out in the form of water cooler trash-talking. Either way, it’s toxic. Not giving feedback carries a significant cost. If you hold onto feedback that someone needs to hear, everybody loses. That person can’t grow, you feel artificial when interacting with the person, and the company as a whole suffers.

Hopefully the importance of giving feedback and creating an open, direct culture is clear. Still, the question remains: how do you give it? Some research suggests that the “magic” of giving feedback is grounding it in high expectations and regard. This logically makes sense, since people want to feel valued as they are today, and it’s much easier to be motivated by feedback if it’s provided within a broader context of respect and appreciation.

Further, consider how you are framing the feedback; are you making it about who the person is, or specific behaviors and their outcomes? The former is often poorly received (see above about regard and expectations). Conversely, tying the feedback to concrete behaviors helps externalize the feedback, making it feel less personal and more actionable. Lastly, be genuine and have kind intentions. If given in a truly caring way, that intention will come across and increase the likelihood of being a positive experience.

Do you have feedback you’re dying to get off your chest, but you’ve shied away from doing so? If so, I challenge you to take the risk…and let me know how it goes!


Chris Smithka - General CounselWhen you need a lift to dinner you can order a car via the Uber app on your smartphone. When you travel to an unfamiliar destination you can stay in someone’s home or apartment using Airbnb. When you need assistance building your new couch from Ikea you can get help through Handy. These companies are all part of the fast growing “on-demand economy” – that is, companies that utilize technology to fulfill consumer demand by the immediate supply of labor and/or services.

Although the forces behind the on-demand economy have been around for a while, two recent trends are accelerating its rise. First, advancements in technology and communication – including inexpensive computers, sophisticated applications, and cloud-based services – have made complex tasks easier to perform. Second, instead of the world being divided by those who own production and the people who work for them, the world is increasingly being divided between people who have money but no time and people who have time but no money. On-demand companies act as middlemen, arranging connections and overseeing quality between these two groups.

A recent article in The Economist identified three issues that on-demand companies will face:

  • Difficulties training, managing, and motivating workers, many of whom are often independent contractors
  • Regulatory and political problems (the California Labor Commission’s recent ruling that a driver for Uber is an employee, not an independent contractor, could have huge implications for the company)
  • Challenges to scaling up, as barriers to entry are low and bonds of loyalty are (often) non-existent

Here at BlueTree Network, we incorporate several aspects of the on-demand economy into our business model. First, we harness technology in a variety of ways. Our online platform, where candidates can create profiles and search for opportunities, has been live for almost two years. Internally, we leverage technology in a variety of ways to work efficiently, collaborate across business divisions, and share standard tools with our consultants. This is one of the reasons we have been able to scale up quickly in just two years, overcoming one of the challenges of the on-demand economy. In fact, we have recently reached a milestone – one hundred consultants currently placed on projects.

Second, our consultants have total control and flexibility over their careers when they work for us. They decide which projects they want to take on and are only paid when they work. Want to take a month-long backpacking trip across Southeast Asia between projects? Your advocate will work with you to make it happen. We strive to keep our consultants happy and, based on consultant feedback, are achieving that goal. This keeps our consultants motivated and wanting to stay with BlueTree after their initial project, overcoming yet another challenge of the on-demand economy.

Finally, by utilizing technology and maintaining a pool of candidates, we are able to work with our customers – large healthcare organizations – to address and solve their most pressing needs, often times on extremely short notice.

As The Economist article noted, the on-demand economy “is likely to benefit people who value flexibility more than security: students who want to supplement their incomes; bohemians who can afford to dip in and out of the labor market; young mothers who want to combine bringing up children with part-time jobs; the semi-retired, whether voluntarily so or not.” BlueTree will continue to be flexible as we grow and evolve in order to stay current as the burgeoning on-demand economy continues to reshape the nature of companies and structure of careers.  


treehouseplan

In my last blog, I introduced strategies that can get people on board with something they might not understand yet. And with that I introduced a theme of finding new ways to be productive, managing teams, and implementing technology that might scare people. Flash forward almost six months — the organization that was tinkering with Holacracy just signed off on a new IS-wide organization structure. They’ve identified new roles they need to fill, have outlined the financial impact, and are “minutes” (in healthcare speak… weeks…?) from full implementation – quite the project they’ve taken on.

Project managers know that limited time, resources, and money impact what outcomes are possible.  They also know an implementation requires building a project plan of steps that drive toward the outcome.  Before making any kind of plan, however, a project manager must understand the vision for those outcomes and translate that vision into the actionable steps.  You also need to know what to look for to know you’ve succeeded (your target) and how you’ll measure your progress along the way (your metrics). 

That in mind, I’d like to share a pretty simple framework that has shaped how I see opportunities to implement programs – particularly, programs that aren’t just IT implementations and thus don’t always have an obvious end product, such as organizational change.  In organizational change, the “product” you are implementing is new relationships and communication between people.  And people are tricky buggers.  So it helps to relate the approach to implementation in context that resonates with people’s lives as people – not just as employees or managers.  
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Caleb Campbell - Management and IT consultant

Caleb Campbell is a management and IT consultant with BlueTree Network. Caleb kicks off our guest blogger series with a post about his passions.

Nelson Mandela once said, “There is no passion to be found playing small, in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.” Life is about doing better, reaching further, climbing higher. For some, that means staying in roles they already enjoy and maximizing their contributions there. It means fine-tuning their existing skill sets and growing themselves within those roles to provide even greater value to their organizations and projects than they have in the past. If that is you, never underestimate the impact you can have by devoting yourself to mastering your craft.

For others, reaching further and climbing higher means aspiring for opportunities that carry more influence, bring more challenges, and require more responsibility than they’ve had before. It means aspiring for leadership. Whether you are someone looking to strengthen your ability to coach or lead right where you are, or someone looking to actually change roles – perhaps you’re a team member wanting to become a team lead, a traveling consultant wanting to transition into a local manager role, or a director with hopes of becoming an executive– this series is for you. My goal through the upcoming posts is to provide proven and practical pointers for anyone out there who may be Looking to Lead.
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