In This Episode

Erik and Allison also discuss the pros and cons of bringing in an outside project manager, why most of us underestimate the time projects like this will take, and the magic CRM and ticketing platform that will solve every organization's challenges.

 

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Healthy organizations will all share any number of high functioning skills. Things like: is there a clear, well-articulated vision? Does a pattern of communication already exist at the organization that's not only delivered clearly but received clearly by all members of the organization? Are there high levels of safety in that organization? Can people have difficult conversations? How thoroughly is the vision or mission adopted? Can everyone articulate it?

ABOUT ALLISON

Allison Fippinger is an independent certified project manager and change agent who works with non-profit arts organizations on large-scale strategic projects including website redesigns and CRM implementations. 

EPISODE TRANSCRIPT

Erik Gensler: Allison, thank you so much for being here.

Allison Fippinger: Sure, thanks so much for having me.

Erik Gensler: So you've got a lot of acronyms after your name on LinkedIn. Are those project management certifications?

Allison Fippinger: They are.

Erik Gensler: (laughs)

Allison Fippinger: I like collecting my letters. I have four certifications that you see in those acronyms on LinkedIn. The first one is the PMP. It's the Project Management Professional. We like to call it the pimp.

Erik Gensler: (laughs)

Allison Fippinger: And that's, that is a very serious certification that you have to study for many years. You need to have a substantial amount of work experience, and then you sit for an exam that's multiple hours. I have also the SCRUB, the Certified Scrub Master, which is the CSM acronym, that is from the Scrum Alliance; because I am a big fan of Agile methodology. There is also another certification from the Project Management Institute, which is my PMIACP-

Erik Gensler: (laughs)

Allison Fippinger: ...because they like their letters. And then the last one that I recently got is I have a CMP, which is a Change Management Professional certification, which is a new round of qualifications that are coming around similar to the PMP where you need a certain amount of work experience.

Erik Gensler: Allison, thank you so much for being here.

Allison Fippinger: Sure, thanks so much for having me.

Erik Gensler: So you've got a lot of acronyms after your name on LinkedIn. Are those project management certifications?

Allison Fippinger: They are.

Erik Gensler: (laughs)

Allison Fippinger: I like collecting my letters. I have four certifications that you see in those acronyms on LinkedIn. The first one is the PMP. It's the Project Management Professional. We like to call it the pimp.

Erik Gensler: (laughs)

Allison Fippinger: And that's, that is a very serious certification that you have to study for many years. You need to have a substantial amount of work experience, and then you sit for an exam that's multiple hours. I have also the SCRUB, the Certified Scrub Master, which is the CSM acronym, that is from the Scrum Alliance; because I am a big fan of Agile methodology. There is also another certification from the Project Management Institute, which is my PMIACP-

Erik Gensler: (laughs)

Allison Fippinger: ...because they like their letters. And then the last one that I recently got is I have a CMP, which is a Change Management Professional certification, which is a new round of qualifications that are coming around similar to the PMP where you need a certain amount of work experience.

Erik Gensler: Wow. So, like the PMP, what are the, what are sort of the big take-aways from that kind of training. So I have a love-hate with the PMP, and I figure it's worth it just to lay it out there.

Erik Gensler: It's hard out here for a PMP.

Allison Fippinger: I know. (laughs) Exactly.

Erik Gensler: (laughs)

Allison Fippinger: So this PMP, they are, it's a focus on waterfall project management.

Erik Gensler: Mm-hmm.

Allison Fippinger: It is, the training and the methodology comes out of the building trade, construction-

Erik Gensler: Mm-hmm.

Allison Fippinger: ...road building and infrastructure. It is extremely strict-

Erik Gensler: Mm-hmm.

Allison Fippinger: ...and there are documents that you put together, and there are change orders that have to be written, and there are certain ways that you do the budget, and certain mathematical calculations that you use to predict the success or failure of your project, which works when you have a 10 million dollar building going up.

Erik Gensler: Right.

Allison Fippinger: Now, in the work that I do, and I've already said I'm a huge fan of Agile methodology, that is a different way of approaching the project where you are, your focus is elsewhere. You still have a budget. You still make a plan. You still have a timeline. But you are focusing on prioritizing the work that you want to do, so that you can make sure you can enter the high value items in first. you're really focusing on what is the most you can deliver with a high performing team given your budget and your schedule.

Erik Gensler: So having this background education, and you said, like oftentimes, that's applied to large, high budget projects; and we, you know, we're here to talk about your work and your background in the nonprofit art space. And so oftentimes, you're going into organizations that don't have this kind of rigor or experience in putting in large scale projects. So, for example, if you're coming in to, say, do a website re-design project, how do you balance, those degrees and certifications with an organization that maybe have never done a project like this or at least hasn't with the current staff?

Allison Fippinger: Honestly, that is the primary reason I get brought into projects where the kind of work that I do and the kind of projects that I participate in are large scale, significant strategic projects. They have a large portion of the budget for that year or multiple years. And many nonprofit organizations, particular in the arts and culture sector, don't staff those kinds of skills because why would you?

Erik Gensler: Right.

Allison Fippinger: You're only going to do a website redesign if you have wonderful money and are right on top of it, maybe every five years, maybe every seven years. So people on staff don't have those skills, and that's one of the reasons that I get brought in. The tools that I put into place, and the skills that I bring to the project, often, the team members that I manage won't even see them happening.

Erik Gensler: Mm-hmm.

Allison Fippinger: It's something that I would share with the leadership. Often it's something that I end up speaking and representing for the project to the board. a lot of times, it won't even appear to the rest of the team. What I hope is that I can bring the exercises and the conversations to the team in a way that that team is able to really receive and hear, because one of my, you know, if we look, there's project management on one side-

Erik Gensler: Mm-hmm.

Allison Fippinger: ...which is really managing the logistics, the budget-

Erik Gensler: Right.

Allison Fippinger: ...the schedule, very dry, but so critical. On the other side, when we look at change management, that is all about managing people and figuring out how do you approach a team that's resistant to change? How do you create a disparate group of people who, perhaps, have been working independently or in silos for 20 years? How do you bring them together and create a shared culture of collaboration around really critical business mission, strategies and goals. And so, it's on that side that I think I'm using the soft skills and really reading the culture and reading the organization to see I know we need to, I know we need to execute a risk analysis, so we can figure out where our biggest risks lie. How am I going to have that conversation with my team? What's the best way I can facilitate it with them so they can give me the information I need?

Erik Gensler: Mm-hmm.. So, you've worked with a lot of organizations, and I imagine coming in as an outsider had very different experiences. And some of the projects that, I'm interested in both the projects that have gone well or not gone well. What have you learned about some of the characteristics of healthy organizational cultures?

Allison Fippinger: Healthy organizations will all share any number of these high functioning skills, but they share them as an organization. So things like, is there a clear, well-articulated vision? Is there, does there already exist at the organization a pattern of communication that's effective and that's not only delivered clearly, but received clearly-

Erik Gensler: Mm-hmm..

Allison Fippinger: ...by all members of the organization? Are there high levels of safety at that organization? Can people have difficult conversations? Can they have honest conversations? How thoroughly is the vision adopted, or the mission of the organization? Can everyone articulate it? Do you see it in everyday life? It's that kind of unity or purpose and clear communication that's going to set the stage for a really successful project.

Erik Gensler: Sure, and how often do you see that in the nonprofit arts world?

Allison Fippinger: (laughs) Well, they all have some of it.

Erik Gensler: Mm-hmm.

Allison Fippinger: My first job when I go to an organization, and I'm starting to learn about them and their culture is to figure out what their strengths are.

Erik Gensler: Mm-hmm.

Allison Fippinger: And everybody has strengths. I also need to pretty quickly figure out where the weaker side of that organization is, what are the skills that we really need to boost up? And, I hope that the organizations that I've worked with will say that by the end of the project we've really made a conscious effort to shore up those weaker areas-

Erik Gensler: Mm-hmm.

Allison Fippinger: ...because the kind of work that I do is, is so dramatic and leaves them in a very different place than they began, and it would be irresponsible of me if I did not make sure that they also had the business skills-

Erik Gensler: Right.

Allison Fippinger: ...or the interpersonal or the management skills, the administrative skills to make sure that they can maintain that change.

Erik Gensler: Right. Well, hopefully, after going through a project like that, everyone leaves changed, right?

Allison Fippinger: Mm-hmm.

Erik Gensler: Like they leave learning some things they may have never had the opportunity to be exposed to before or change how they perhaps think about future projects even though they may not be of the same scale.

Allison Fippinger: Absolutely, because the skills apply across everything. You know, what we learn during a large scale project you can take away and you can use tomorrow in this tiny thing that you're doing in your daily life, no matter who you are. And, what really makes me happy is when I hear people after projects repeat things, the good skills, the good practices, or the lesson learned that I shared two months ago. If I hear them repeating it to somebody else, I think, "Yes! We did it!"

Erik Gensler: What do some of the projects, besides a website redesign, what are some of the kinds of projects that you've worked on?

Allison Fippinger: I will do lots of work in CRM. I have done a great deal of data conversion work and third party integrations. I am right now working on a project that is a CRM implementation, but it's also really very specifically an exercise in change management and business process change because the tools that we're putting in place are so different than what existed before.

Erik Gensler: Mm-hmm.

Allison Fippinger: So my projects often, will most often, have a technical component to them in terms of software. Sometimes we also do infrastructure and upgrade work as well.

Erik Gensler: What are, some of the learnings you've been thinking about recently that you've had like aha moments in terms of things you've taken away from bringing change to an organization through a project like that?

Allison Fippinger: Definitely something that I have learned as I work on larger and larger scale projects because the work that we do crosses so many departments, is all encompassing at the organization. It is critical for me to understand the culture of that organization very quickly-

Erik Gensler: Mm-hmm.

Allison Fippinger: ...because if I don't understand, not only who the organization is, but who the individuals are and how those individuals interact, I can't be successful in-

Erik Gensler: Right.

Allison Fippinger: ...effecting change. And, the other thing I would say is making sure that whoever represents the leadership of the project is able to really clearly articulate the goals and the metrics that they want to see at the end of the project to make sure that everyone understands the expectations and that we have lined them up realistically so that we can, have the hard discussions around goals or metrics if they're not realistic or if they don't align with the box that we've drawn-

Erik Gensler: Mm-hmm.

Allison Fippinger: ...around that project so that we can make quick corrections and early corrections.

Erik Gensler: Do you find that a lot of organizations tend to under estimate the complexity or time of these kind of projects like implementing a CRM or doing a website redesign?

Allison Fippinger: Absolutely. No question across the board.

Erik Gensler: Because we're all optimists?

Allison Fippinger: Because-

Erik Gensler: (laughs)

Allison Fippinger: Oh, that's the thing. I was going to say it's not just the organizations, it's all of us.

Erik Gensler: Yeah.

Allison Fippinger: We're all optimists

Erik Gensler: , we have a natural propensity to over-estimate our own abilities. It's who we are as humans. It's what we do. So, I think we always just need to be aware of that. it's something I fall prey to as well. I am a consultant. I always make an estimate of how much I think the work will be.

Erik Gensler: Right, oh yeah.

Allison Fippinger: I will always match that number up against specific historic data, so that I can tell if my estimates are in line with other projects or other work that is similar; and this where one of the tools of Agile development comes into play. So in Agile you have an exercise in estimating, and I'm not going to go deep into it, but basically you estimate all your tasks, and you start working on them. And you use the same, the same measurement for all your tasks. So if you think something's going to take 10 hours, it's a large task; and if you think this other thing is going to take 10 hours, it's also a large task. But now you know, if the first task actually took you 25 hours, then you have to reset the actual time duration that you've assigned for the rest of the project. And by using tools like that, you can, again, really quickly correct as you move through a project, where you can execute a portion of the work, look back on your data and the metrics-

Erik Gensler: Mm-hmm.

Allison Fippinger: ...that, you know, you've collected and see if you're on track or if you need to reassess

Erik Gensler: Yeah.

Allison Fippinger: And I would say that one of the challenges that we have as consultants, having been through these projects so many times, is if we go into an organization and recognize immediately that the expectations are out of line with what we can realistically deliver, it is our obligation and responsibility to our clients to say it in a straightforward and honest way. There is no benefit to me to shy away from the conversation of, "You would like..." I'm going to make something up entirely. But, "You would like a gold-plated tuna fish sandwich for five dollars. For five dollars, I can get you a tuna on rye. That's what I can give you. If you want gold-plated, I have to tell you honestly, it's 30 times as much. So, let's talk about that, and let's figure out, do you need the gold plating or is it more important that we stay within the budget?”

Erik Gensler: Good for you to be so straightforward about that. I think that's very hard because in many ways you want the work-

Allison Fippinger: Yeah.

Erik Gensler: ...you want to be chosen to do it, but... So it's balancing how you position that in terms of here's the reality of the situation and here's what it's going to cost. (laughs)

Allison Fippinger: Absolutely, but the thing is I am an independent consultant.

Erik Gensler: Right.

Allison Fippinger: So I am hired, I think, first and foremost, on the basis of my reputation.

Erik Gensler: Mm-hmm.

Allison Fippinger: And so the best thing I can do to maintain, you know, a good reputation, and act with integrity on behalf of my clients, is to make sure that I am promising to them, because every time I contract with a client it is a promise-

Erik Gensler: Right.

Allison Fippinger: ...that I'm making to them and its business, but it's personal.

Erik Gensler: Sure.

Allison Fippinger: And to promise to them that I will deliver on the expected outcome that they are asking me for.

Erik Gensler: So, I'm a big advocate in learning from mistakes; and, perhaps this podcast can help people learn some mistakes from experiences that you've had, so let's say a CRM implementation or a website redevelopment project, what are some mistakes that you've made that you think people could learn from.

Allison Fippinger: Yeah, absolutely. I would like to start by saying I'm right with you on mistakes. And there's a phrase, there's a saying, something about, "It's only a mistake if you don't learn from it."

Erik Gensler: Right.

Allison Fippinger: All right?

Erik Gensler: That's a good one.

Allison Fippinger: And for me that really plays into the idea of, of a zone of safety. I really want to make sure that not only, not only, not really for me, but more for the team members, that they have the backing and support of their leadership so that they can be free to make decisions and make mistakes and learn from them.

Erik Gensler: Right.

Allison Fippinger: So one of the tools that I will build into our project plan are regular milestone check-ins to make sure we are on track, air quotes, on track with the project; because I think that the best mitigation factor to mistakes is being able to recognize them early and correct them quickly. so, you know, what are mistakes that I've made? What are mistakes that I've seen? For me, I learned very early that I had to check every single assumption because I might go in, because I've done this project 10 times, "I think I know what you need." But, in fact, I don't know what you need until you tell me-

Erik Gensler: Mm-hmm..

Allison Fippinger: ...because I could be wrong. Now I could make recommendations, but I always need to get that very formal affirmation that my expectations are correct and my assumptions are correct. So that's one thing that I will always, always put down as a lesson learned, check the assumptions. The other mistake I would... I don't know if it would be a mistake; but the, maybe the pitfall, the, one of the things to watch out for is deferring the hard conversations, getting back to that. And you know, straight talk. I know you're a huge fan of radical candor-

Erik Gensler: Yeah.

Allison Fippinger: ...which I am now reading, thank you very much.

Erik Gensler: Good.

Allison Fippinger: It goes along with a path of thought that I was traveling on, which was positive confrontation.

Erik Gensler: Mm-hmm. (laughs)

Allison Fippinger: Because it's same thing, right? Different words, same thing. But it's, the idea that if we don't have the hard conversations early, we're going to waste time and money. It will be at the expense of trust and safety to find that we have a much bigger mistake later in the project that is now very challenging to fix. So just to front load all the risk, it's the agile idea, you retire risk early, and to make sure that, you're opening up all the boxes very early, so you don't have surprises down the road.

Erik Gensler: That's great. What was the name of that other?

Allison Fippinger: “Positive Confrontation.”

Erik Gensler: Is that a book?

Allison Fippinger: It's, It is a book. There's a woman, and she's got a theory of how you communicate. It's got, you know, all of the books have the steps that you take, I like the way "Radical Candor" is written, I'll tell you. It's just a very enjoyable book to read.

Erik Gensler: Yeah.

Allison Fippinger: But it's a similar, just a similar approach, saying essentially that we tend to shy away from confrontation; but, in fact, that's totally counterproductive because in this day and age it's all about disruption. It's all about very fast movement forward. It's all about shifting and pivoting.

Erik Gensler: I think Kim Scott says it best where we're taught as kids, "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all."

Allison Fippinger: Mm-hmm.

Erik Gensler: And that's, you know, I think that's where we tend to operate from in the workplace and it's probably not that productive.

Allison Fippinger: Mm-hmm.. Well, and I think we don't... Because of that we don't have a good skill set to use for positive confrontation to have challenging conversations in respectful and loving ways.

Erik Gensler: Right. And just calling it positive confrontation is really nice.

Allison Fippinger: Yes.

Erik Gensler: (laughs).

Allison Fippinger: Yes, it really, it just spins it a different way and sets the table so that you can have a collaborative conversation knowing that you might butt heads, and that's okay, because that's how we grow and share ideas and come to new positions.

Erik Gensler: Definitely. So, I'm often asked in, after a conference, and it actually happened this week, someone says, "What's the best ticketing platform for my company?" As if I had some magic bullet answer that will solve an organization's problems. And, you know, we often get asked, "What's the best CMS?" or "What's the best email platform?"

Allison Fippinger: Mm-hmm.

Erik Gensler: But, it's mostly about CRMs and ticketing platforms. So, can you tell me, which one's the magic bullet?

Allison Fippinger: (laughs) So, of course, you're making an assumption there, which I'm going to check for you, that a CRM is a magic bullet. And my first question, if a client is going to say to me, "What is the best CRM? What is the best CMS? What is the system that everyone else is using for a DAM?" That is, as you know, a digital asset management system. Those aren't the right questions to ask. The right questions to ask are: What is your organization looking for right now? What is the, what is the factor that's driving this question? What is the business need behind it? What is the forward looking business need and the strategy you're hoping to support? Who are you as an organization? Do you like to have your tools in house? Do you have a robust IT department? Is there one person in the basement calling out to a support team that's in India? You know, what is your, what is your unique organizational situation? And always, to bring it back to what is the business need? What is the, what are the goals? Or, what is the vision that you are trying to achieve? Start there.

Erik Gensler: Right.

Allison Fippinger: And from there, we can talk about what tools will suit. And I will say, I had a client once who actually hired me, so I can-

Erik Gensler: (laughs)

Allison Fippinger: ...end this story happy right now. They hired me. But I walked into the initial meeting and they said, "We are about to sign with this particular piece of software, and we'd like you to implement it, and here are the challenges we face, and here's who, what we do for our business." And I had a quiet moment, and I thought about it, and I had to say to them, "You'll have to help me because I do not understand the connection between your business and this software tool that you want to implement, because it does not seem like the right match for you. Can you share with me why you think that tool's going to solve your problems, and how you see it fitting into your business?" And later, one of the people who was in the meeting, said, "You won me right there. There was nobody else who was going to manage this project, because no one else had sat down and said that to us; and it's something we were puzzling with."

Erik Gensler: Mm-hmm.

Allison Fippinger: So, again, making sure that you're asking the hard questions up front, and not going along with a decision's been made and now we have to run.

Erik Gensler: Mm-hmm.

Allison Fippinger: Let's stop. Let's just check that decision, make sure it's right. Okay, now we know where we all want to move, and we can do in that direction. So that's the long way of saying, there is no magic bullet.

Erik Gensler: Yeah. But it's interesting. There is a lot of mysticism about lots of platforms, and I hear it all the time. "If we can only move to this platform, we'll have a place for all of our data is in one place." And, I say to that, "That is simply not true." (laughs)

Allison Fippinger: (laughs)

Erik Gensler: It just, you know, and oftentimes the answer isn't a CRM, the answer is people and processes.

Allison Fippinger: Mm-hmm.

Erik Gensler: That's something I've learned in our business, where I really thought for our, all the finance operations of our company, like there has to be a system that can like solve this and after tons of research and tons of time and tons of vendor meetings, there is not one system that is going to solve all of these problems. It's a matter of people and processes and picking the system that is close enough-

Allison Fippinger: Mm-hmm.

Erik Gensler: ...but it's often not even the system, it's how you use the system.

Allison Fippinger: It's so true. And I bet you see this all the time because your business is really rooted in analyzing that data and digging fully through it. And so often organizations have all the data there, and they don't have the tools to dig into it; and so, I would say one of the first questions is, "Do you have the right skills on staff to look at your data?"

Erik Gensler: Mm-hmm.

Allison Fippinger: And, if not, go find them.

Erik Gensler: Yeah.

Allison Fippinger: Hire a consultant. Hire, or hire a business analyst. Hire somebody who can look at what you have, now and make sure you're using it fully.

Erik Gensler: That's right.

Allison Fippinger: And, I mean, I don't know if you see this on the website as well, or, the other work that you do, but are you using the existing system that you have fully.

Erik Gensler: Right.

Allison Fippinger: Or are you telling me, or telling each other, that it's your current system can't do certain functionalities when, in fact, those just haven't been configured or implemented right now.

Erik Gensler: Right. And it's often what you're saying, like the person or the data analyst or, and it's not even that they may have the skills on staff, but that person may not, just not, have the time.

Allison Fippinger: Mm-hmm.

Erik Gensler: So having, for example, everyone, in our world everyone has google analytics down. It's oftentimes not set up to align, to capture, all the right data or answer the question that the business has; but, then, there's also the expectation that I can just open a dashboard and get the answer-

Allison Fippinger: Mm-hmm.

Erik Gensler: ...when getting the answer probably requires 50 to 100 hours of exporting that data, analyzing that data. Well, first, asking the question.

Allison Fippinger: Asking the right question. (laughs)

Erik Gensler: Then, you know, setting it up to answer the question, then exporting the data, then analyzing the data; and, you know-

Allison Fippinger: Mm-hmm..

Erik Gensler: ...and then perhaps you'll have an answer. unfortunately, that answer doesn't come across on a dashboard. And I think that's oftentimes where we get in trouble. Where same with CRMs, where organizations will switch from sort of a more junior CRM to a much more expensive one that's difficult to implement; and on the other side of that process, they think, "Oh, well, we're going to have all the answers." It's like, "Well, no, you're still going to have to ask the question, export the data, analyze the data-

Allison Fippinger: Mm-hmm.

Erik Gensler: ...making sure someone's doing that, and then take action on it." So-

Allison Fippinger: Mm-hmm.

Erik Gensler: ...one of the smartest things that ever came out of this podcast is Jill Robinson from TRG said, "Data doesn't do anything. People do everything."

Allison Fippinger: Yeah.

Erik Gensler: And I've never forgotten that.

Allison Fippinger: Absolutely. And, just listening to you walk through the steps of how you get the answer to the question, and first, it has to be the right question. We, then again, get that whole question or conversation around estimating. There was one... Oh, it was a blog that I read that dealt with estimating and, you know, it's tongue in cheek, but it said, "Okay, you want to drive from New York to Boston, how do you do it? Well, you get in your car and you drive and it takes you three hours." And that's, you know, that's the hypothetical. That's the pie in the sky. But in fact, what you do is you get in your car and you drive for 30 minutes; but then you find you need gas, so you have to pull off to get gas. But that gas station is closed, so you have to drive two more... And then you have to stop and get something to eat and by the time you actually get to Boston from New York it's eight hours later.

Erik Gensler: Right.

Allison Fippinger: It's, you know, to be able to think through, and to step through, the journey and the tasks that you need to take to get to the end result is an exercise that I think, too often, we short shrift.

Erik Gensler: Definitely. And so much about prioritization, and our limited time, and who we have to ask the questions to, and who has time to answer them., we work in the nonprofit art space, and all of our clients, no matter what size they are, if they are, you know, a large symphony or dance company down to a small regional theater, no one has very much free time in their day because there's just, you know, nonprofits are staffed with an eye towards resources, which is often not a lot; and so, if you have a question, or let's say the marketing director has a big question that requires digging the data and doing research and doing analysis, who's going to do that?

Allison Fippinger: Absolutely. Who has the ability to clear their desk for the next week?

Erik Gensler: Right.

Allison Fippinger: And get that answer. And, yet, those questions are coming down through organizations all the time and when the president or the CEO, or whomever your top level is, has a question and needs an answer, everyone jumps to get on it, right, which brings back that idea of clear communication and a strategic plan or a master vision that's shared by everyone so that we know where the value is placed in the organization and when it's worthwhile for a BA to drop what they're doing to answer these three questions that came from marketing that they need right away. We can assess the business value.

Erik Gensler: Right, right. They're many organizations that say, "We prefer to do things in house." Or, "We want to do things in house." And for a while I was like, "Oh, okay, I get that." But as a business owner who has seen the benefits of not doing things in house for my own business and seeing the benefits of bringing in an expert on something who I can just say, "Okay. I'm paying you to do this. I'm going to give you what you need to do this, and you're going to come back to me with something that I really need." It's super-empowering, and it's thrilling in a way because... I mean, I feel like, in the last few years, we've gotten such amazing work from outsiders. And here in our industry, there are some organizations that do have bias against bringing in outsiders. And, obviously, I'm biased in this conversation, and in a way, so are you, because we're both hired by organizations to, in a sense, outsource work. But I'm just interested in your thoughts around that.

Allison Fippinger: On the one hand, I want to celebrate and support any organization that wants to be self-sustaining. On the other hand, there are skills that you're only going to need once in a while. There is expertise that you can only gain by living and breathing that one subject matter area. And... If I put on my project manager hat, one of the most valuable resources that we have when we look at projects are these roles called subject matter experts. They are SMEs because, of course, we like our acronyms, right? So SMEs you bring in when you have a specific question about a specific topic. They're not part of the core project team. They're not in every single meeting on the project. And the reason it's valuable to work in that way is because you're not wasting someone's time who needs to spend it doing something more valuable, and you're using somebody who is already up the curve on the knowledge, up the curve on the expertise-

Erik Gensler: Right.

Allison Fippinger: ...and they can literally drop in, give you the deliverable that you want, the information that you want, do the task that you want, and then they can be removed from the project. Again, you can move forward because you have your answers. And, there is such value in that-

Erik Gensler: Mm-hmm.

Allison Fippinger: ...because it saves stress and energy and time of your core resources, so that they can focus on their priorities. And you know then, that you are getting the best of the best. Someone who is living in that particular area of business, and who doesn't haven't to get up the curve to provide what you need.

Erik Gensler: And that makes your team stronger-

Allison Fippinger: Yeah.

Erik Gensler: ...because they get the exposure to that. we have in house design and marketing here, but when we do any sort of major design project, we bring in this outside firm that I think are super talented and super smart and all they do is brand and identity work. And every time we work with them, I'm just so amazed that not only what they come back with, but then what it does for our teams in terms of enabling us once they leave.

Allison Fippinger: Absolutely. Because no matter what they, what work they've executed that you've handed off, just in the delivery of those items, in the conversation that's happened to get them to delivery, you've already learned more.

Erik Gensler: That's right.

Allison Fippinger: And you already take away additional skills.

Erik Gensler: Yeah. It's hard as an outside expert to have the conversation about the importance of outside expertise without sounding biased.

Allison Fippinger: It's true.

Erik Gensler: It really is.

Allison Fippinger: I was reading something. You turned me on to the whole idea of executive coaching and just reading about what a coach does, the services that they provide, and how valuable they can be in your perspective, and one of the things that I found so interesting as I was reading about it was when you have a coach, or when you bring in an outside eye, whatever that is, it could be personally if you have a friend and you want to talk to them about a situation, or a professional if you bring in a consultant, that person's job is to give you a fresh perspective, and a clean perspective, and a knowledgeable perspective on this topic that you're talking or this project that you're doing. And, in a way, it, I think that bringing in an outside voice helps you see more clearly.

Erik Gensler: Mm-hmm..

Allison Fippinger: Don't know if others see it the same way that I do, but I have adjusted the way I work thinking about that as one of my responsibilities and my roles.

Erik Gensler: That's interesting.

Allison Fippinger: Yeah. It's really shifted the way I approach my clients.

Erik Gensler: That's great. Yeah. When I started Capacity, I was doing a number of website redesign project management, which was really more about providing expertise around digital marketing to websites. And I've come to realize over time that we're not a firm that has expertise in website project management. We're a firm, and I'm a person, that has expertise in digital marketing. And, we were doing these websites. We designed projects which required, you know, website and project management skills. And we stepped away from that and have really moved to a model of we'll be subject matter experts. At the time when it makes sense to bring in, somebody who needs to talk about your web analytics or talk about setting up conversion tracking or google tag manager or how you're thinking about your landing pages from our past experience. Now I know, I was never a great project manager. And there are people here that are, but I feel like we were framing this wrong. My point is we were brought in as outside project managers for web series designs. A lot of organizations are taking their people and their marketing team or someone within the organization and having them manage the website redesigns. And, I think there are pros and cons to both for an organization. I'm just curious of your thought about some of those pros and cons, because I think it's a decision that organizations have to make. Like, we have this big website project. We could take this person, and have them do it, and they bring x, y, and z. Or, we bring in someone from the outside. What are your thoughts around that?

Allison Fippinger: I can speak to the experience of being someone who's brought in.

Erik Gensler: What are the pros of having, let me re-ask the questions. What are the pros of having someone internal manage the project?

Allison Fippinger: I think that when you have someone internal managing the project, that person has the benefit, hopefully, of institutional knowledge, that they already live within the culture, they already understand all the players. So there is a ramp up period that doesn't need to happen there. the con of that, I would say, is that, that one individual may or may not have a full set of skills to manage, depending on how large or complex the project is. You have to think about that. You may want to provide professional development, if that's the case. The other potential con that organizations should watch out for is to make sure that, that one individual who is tasked with managing the project, can be independent, can approach the project without previous bias, and can, in fact, balance the needs of all the stakeholders that they're going to be serving at the organization and not come at that project from their own department's position.

Erik Gensler: Right.

Allison Fippinger: And of course-

Erik Gensler: Right. I've made that mistake before.

Allison Fippinger: Yeah.

Erik Gensler: For sure.

Allison Fippinger: (laughs)

Erik Gensler: (laughs) Yeah.

Allison Fippinger: There's the converse. There's the benefit that when you hire somebody from without, and a lot of organizations hire a consultant for this reason, you get someone who is specifically unbiased. And you get someone who comes in without any preconceived notions. And so, the outside representative often is able to establish a greater trust and create a more open and equal footing project team, because they are not representing any particular department. And if we loop that back into websites or CRM, those type of projects bring out all the skeletons in the organization closet. There's no way you make it through a CRM implementation, or a website implementation, without two departments going at it at some point, because it's organizational priorities, and I think this is important because in my fiefdom, I see this as a critical metric or measure that I need to succeed at, and it might be in opposition to yours.

Erik Gensler: When you see those conflicts, does it get your adrenaline going? Do you feel like, "Oh, my God. I have to work hard to mitigate this, or do you see that as positive conflict that is a good thing?"

Allison Fippinger: (laughs) It is a good thing. Well, it's an inevitable thing. That's the first thought that comes to my head, because I know that there are unresolved tensions in all organizations. It's just the way of it, that will surface, and that we're going to need to deal with. For me, I definitely see it as a positive aspect of the project work that we're actually, that the momentum is there, because we're now surfacing the conversations that we actually need to be having. I don't actually, maybe this is another pro of being a consultant, it doesn't raise my adrenaline. Because I don't take it personally I feel very dedicated to the work that I'm doing but somehow I don't feel personally involved in the politics and the tensions and the arguments or the-

Erik Gensler: Yeah.

Allison Fippinger: ...you know, the politics-

Erik Gensler: Totally.

Allison Fippinger: ...that happen at organizations.

Erik Gensler: Do organizations try to bring you into their politics?

Allison Fippinger: Oh, yeah. (laughs)

Erik Gensler: (laughs) You know, like the therapist that comes in that can lend an ear when you're just in someone's office?

Allison Fippinger: (laughs) For sure, and I don't think that's a bad thing, because to tell your story to someone else is, in my mind, a way that you can almost give away the aggravation and the tension that you're holding about it. So I know when I do get aggravated about things that are outside of my project work, or whatever, I will share them with a colleague or a friend or my mom, all the time. My poor mom. But to share it with someone else, let's you release-

Erik Gensler: Right.

Allison Fippinger: ...the stress of it. So I think that that's actually a really valuable role that I play; but also, again, I don't have a stake in the game. I don't want any specific outcome. I want that organization to succeed.

Erik Gensler: Right. Absolutely. So let's talk about you personally. We talked a lot about projects and project management. Do you have any mentors?

Allison Fippinger: This is such a hard question. It's really tough because my answer is trite and sounds fake, but it's not. And it is that every single person I meet has something to teach me. And I value every single interaction that I have, and I feel as though if we're not looking for those positives in other people, if we're not looking for the thing that you know that I don't know or the skill that you have that I would like to emulate, then we're missing a lot of the beauty that's happening around us, and we're missing a huge opportunity for growth and learning.

Erik Gensler: Yeah. There was a quote that I remember, and I can't remember exactly who said it, on the Tim Ferriss show, and this guy said," Look for the magic in every interaction."

Allison Fippinger: Yes. Yes. Exactly.

Erik Gensler: Yeah.

Allison Fippinger: It's the idea of, and I'm not going to get the quote right, but it's the idea of, "everyone carries the Buddha within them."

Erik Gensler: Yeah.

Allison Fippinger: There is something beautiful and admirable in every single person you meet. And why wouldn't you look for that every time you meet someone?

Erik Gensler: It's such a good reminder, and it's so easy to forget; and sometimes when I walk down the street, and I just... You see all these faces in New York, and it's just very moving because you think, like-

Allison Fippinger: Yeah.

Erik Gensler: ...There's a story there. There could be a magic interaction there. But this guy said, like even at the drugstore, in that interaction, it can be transactional or you can look for the magic in that; and if you approach life looking for the magic in those interactions, it's amazing what you get.

Allison Fippinger: That's absolutely right.

Erik Gensler: Yeah. That's a really good reminder. Thank you. So you're a big reader. Any books recently that have influenced you or your work. There's book called "The Fifth Discipline" which is the bible on systems theory; and it's the whole idea that any organism or ecosystem or any organization has this web of life that is sustaining it. And, it's just a way of thinking about, you know, if you pull a thread over here, does something fall apart over there, and academic ways to think about that. And, oh, I can get lost in that for hours.

Erik Gensler: Yeah, that's really interesting when you think about that from an organizational perspective.

Allison Fippinger: Yes.

Erik Gensler: If something unravels, how does it impact the rest of the system, the ecosystem?

Allison Fippinger: Exactly. And they start with that idea. It's used a lot in environmental studies.

Erik Gensler: What about just talk a few, characteristics of successful teams?

Allison Fippinger: Oh, goodness. Okay.

Erik Gensler: Put you on the spot.

Allison Fippinger: So one of them would be that the team believes that they are working towards a life-changing outcome. That whatever they are making is so revolutionary that life will just, life as we know it will change after. in technology, there are a lot of examples, use cases of teams where that one motivating factor brought them together in a way that no other factor could have.

Allison Fippinger: The other characteristic that I would call out is having a unified enemy, as it were. If you are working together against another company or another product, if you have a rival, that competitiveness will propel the team forward as well. And so, sometimes, in the bigger tech industries, they will actually create teams in this way and pit them against each other to leverage that rivalry.

Erik Gensler: That's fascinating. Yeah, I think that... I forget, Howard Schultz was on "Here's the Thing,” Alec Baldwin's podcast that I love. And he was saying, successful companies, you have to believe that you're doing something... It has to be bigger. The mission has to be big.

Allison Fippinger: Yes.

Erik Gensler: Big and important.

Allison Fippinger: Mm-hmm. And clearly articulated.

Erik Gensler: That's right.

Allison Fippinger: This is always my, you know, this is my, my pound on the table, repeat again and again, you need to be able to tell your story in a way that everyone around you can absorb and can retell.

Erik Gensler: Right.

Allison Fippinger: Everyone needs to be able to tell the story.

Erik Gensler: That's right.

Allison Fippinger: Then you know you're all moving in the same direction.

Erik Gensler: That's right. What's something you've learned in the last year, or so, that's been profound in how you work or think?

Allison Fippinger: I would like to say two things, I think. First is I have become a huge advocate of a theory of productivity called "Getting Things Done". It's by a guy named David Allen, and the idea behind it is that people who are working at higher levels of an organization, or are high performing, have so much information that they need to be managing and taking in that it really clutters up the space in our brains that we would normally use for big thinking; because there is brain science that's been done that, you know, you can only hold so much information in your brain. And if all the... I use the metaphor of a bus. If all the seats on the bus are full, you can't put any more information in there-

Erik Gensler: Mm-hmm..

Allison Fippinger: ...because there are no more seats. And so his theory of productivity and his theory of really moving something through the smaller work to get to the bigger, more valuable work, is you take the information out of your brain. And it's a whole system of capturing information and making sure it's brought back to you at the right time or that you're able to retrieve at the right time, so that you don't have the loose ends and the threads taking up the space in your brain. And once you get them out of your brain, you're gifting yourself with this open place to have ideas.

Erik Gensler: Yeah. How do you get them out of your brain?

Allison Fippinger: You capture them or there's a book on it. (laughs)

Erik Gensler: Mm-hmm.

Allison Fippinger: There's a whole... but you capture them in, I use, I'm very low tech. I'm kind of embarrassed. I work in tech, but I'm extremely low tech. Everyone who's worked with me knows that I use stickies, post-in notes, all the time. And if there's something that I need to do, I literally write it down on a post-it note. I put it into a folder that I carry with me everywhere I go and once I've written it down on the post-it notes-

Erik Gensler: It's out of your brain.

Allison Fippinger: ...it's out of my brain, because I know it's in my folder, and I know I review that folder every single morning; and I know that tomorrow morning, when I review it, if that sticky represents something I need to do on Friday, I put it into my calendar tomorrow morning. I don't have to think about it until Friday at ten.

Erik Gensler: Yeah.

Allison Fippinger: So, I'm extremely low tech. Lots of people use the Outlook functionality. People who use "Getting Things Done,” the GTD, they'll use Outlook. They'll use OneNote or Evernote. There are all kinds of apps for your phone-

Erik Gensler: Right.

Allison Fippinger: ...that support the system. But I just don't find I need any of it. Post-it notes and a pen.

Erik Gensler: That's very cool. I've heard with couples, and I find this true with my husband and I, like, you can remember less because you know your partner has the answer.

Allison Fippinger: Oh.

Erik Gensler: Like, there's a lot of stuff I don't bother remembering because I know he knows it. So, what was that movie we saw, or

Allison Fippinger: (laughs)

Erik Gensler: ...what was that restaurant we like? I don't even bother learning the name because I know I can always just ask him and his memory's way better than mine, so.

Allison Fippinger: He's holding your information. You know you can retrieve it when you want it.

Erik Gensler: Yeah.

Allison Fippinger: (laughs)

Erik Gensler: Hopefully, it's reciprocal.

Allison Fippinger: (laughs)

Erik Gensler: (laughs) What is one thing that you're best at? And something that you're working on to improve?

Allison Fippinger: Okay. People love when you ask them this, don't they? (laughs) It's a hard question.

Erik Gensler: It's a hard question. It's funny, well, which they choose to answer first and, which they're comfortable answering first, is always interesting, too.

Allison Fippinger: (laughs)

Erik Gensler: (laughs) No pressure.

Allison Fippinger: No, no. For me, I've got to tell you, though, the one thing you do best is the easy one for me because it's been the same my whole life. My parents recently moved out of their house that they've lived in for 40 years and I got all my first grade report cards back. And it literally, on my first grade report card, it says, "Allison is a very good listener." And that's my skill. I think I am a very good listener. And in the work that I do and in some personal journeys that I've taken lately, I've even worked to become a better listener putting into play active listening, which is, ah, you know, a communication technique. So I think that that's... I know that I'm going to hear a good percentage of what everyone tells me, which I'm very proud of, and I guard very carefully. I make sure that I'm still always there and present in listening. So that one's easy. Though, what are the... you know, what do you want to work on? It's everything. Oh, there's so much I want to work on. (laughs) But I will go light on that one, just because, you know, that could be an hour podcast all in itself.

Erik Gensler: Yeah.

Allison Fippinger: And I will say that one of my current clients who I will name because I love to call out for them. It's Theater Development Fund, TDF, in New York, who does this amazing work bringing Broadway to everyone and just making it more accessible. Every time I go on site with them, someone there asks me, "What are you seeing while you're here in town? What show are you seeing? When was the last time that you went to the theater?" And it is a wonderful check that I have to answer out loud to say, either, sheepishly, "I haven't been to see anything in three months"-

Erik Gensler: Right.

Allison Fippinger: ...which then, of course, you know, they encourage me to go, or I get to share with them what I've seen and it's just part of their culture that everyone participates in the arts. And they talk about it. And it has been such a pleasure for me to be able to be a guest and a visitor in that world, and it's made me much more participatory in this world that I live.

Erik Gensler: That's great.

Allison Fippinger: Yeah.

Erik Gensler: So we're up to the final question and we call this your CI to Eye moment. And the question is, if you can broadcast the executive director's leadership teams staff, which we just added as an additional point that one of my colleagues pointed out, that it shouldn't just be the leadership and the boards, it should be the staff. So if you could broadcast the executive director's leadership team's staff and boards of a thousand arts organizations, what advice would you provide to them to help them improve their businesses?

Allison Fippinger: I would like to answer it for change, since that's really what I represent here. There are only a few things you have to remember when you are executing change, and the first is that crystal clear vision whether you are the leadership, whether you are in a role of management, or whether you are working in the trenches putting that data in, you need to know why you're doing it and what your goals are. If you don't, if you aren't clear, on what the expectations are for you, if you don't know what your world is going to look like at the end of the change, then you ask. And, if as a leader, you haven't communicated that clearly, you're staff won't know what to do. So making sure that you're really verbalizing what the vision is, and where you're going to end up. The second thing I would say, and this speaks specifically to leadership and to managers, you have to live the change. Because if someone in a leadership role is not representing the desired behavior, is not reinforcing the changes that we want to see, it delegitimizes the work that you're doing. It erodes the trust in the team, and it taxes the process. I mean, it really literally costs you dollars if your team sees someone in a role of leadership acting outside of the direction of change. Whereas, if your leadership is living the change with intent and with integrity, you have now accelerated the rate of that change exponentially because your team knows that it is authentic and meaningful to the organization. And I can't stress that enough. And the last thing that I would say is that while we've been talking about change as a project, it's an implementation. It's something you do for a fixed period of time. Everyone always asks, you know, when you're in conversations about change management, "Well, how do you make it stick? You can execute it, but how do you make sure that it's maintained?" And I always share with my teams, and everyone who is a part of that project, that this is not a one and done. We finish the implementation and then it's your job-

Erik Gensler: Right.

Allison Fippinger: ...to continuously integrate all these ideas in everything you do every day. So you can't let it go. You can't forget about it. It's a constant effort that is ongoing for the good of your organization.

Erik Gensler: Yeah. That's great. Thank you so much.

Allison Fippinger: Thank you so much.