Throughout our careers we have learnt from our experience and believe that it is important to pass on helpful advice
in the form of checklist and tips. Please have a look at our ideas below and feel free to comment back as to their
We believe that they will be helpful, but no doubt they could be improved with further input from you.
Click on the 'tabs' below to expand the selections.
1. Strategic planning approach
The straightforward reason is to ensure that all your organisation’s resources are focussed on realising a common vision – that all the parts of the whole are working towards the same end.
How do you create strategic plans?
Start at the end and work backwards or start at the beginning and work forwards! But which is better? I suggest getting a clear understanding of your end vision is the best place to start.
What is your end vision?
Your end vision is a new improved way of running your organisation which delivers significant improvements to your key measures of success.
Sounds like you need to know what your key measures of success are!
Absolutely. Key measures of success are those quantifiable factors by which you, and others, will know how well you have realised your vision. Using the right ones will ensure that you can keep your finger accurately on the pulse of your business or organisation – using the wrong ones could mean that you lose effective understanding and control.
How do you define your key measures of success?
Start by identifying who your main stakeholders are. In other words those people that you want to be pleased with the end vision. Typically this list will include customers, shareholders, suppliers, employees plus others more specific to your organisation.
Prioritise these stakeholders – they will not all be of equal importance to you. Take time to understand the true importance of each stakeholder as this will be crucial when you test the vision later in the process. The better focus you can get at every stage of developing your vision the stronger its definition.
Next establish what will please your stakeholders. Asking them is always a good [but often missed] way of doing this! Do not forget to include yourself, unless of course your only pleasure will be the pleasing of others. Ask them to prioritise and quantify their measures of success – again getting more focus.
You now know your key measures of success.
How do you design your end vision?
This is the inspirational part!
You should get as much expert opinion as possible as to what alternative organisational options could deliver significant improvements in your key measures of success. Experts exist within your current organisation as well as outside – tap them all for their knowledge. This knowledge needs to cover:
Product and market scope
The basis for differentiation
Customer information and insight
Customer fulfilment/service interfaces
Obviously this is a non-trivial exercise and should not be rushed or given ‘surface only’ attention..
With all the input gathered someone has to create a straw-man design of the future vision. That someone has to be you or your trusted visionary.
How do you know your vision is robust?
You must test, test and test it again.
Explain the vision to the experts and ask them to pull it to pieces. Encourage criticism, search for the risks and avoid defensiveness. A robust vision will survive tough challenges. This phase is the most important and yet probably the most difficult to undertake. None of us find it easy to ask for and receive criticism of our ‘baby’.
At the end of testing you must decide if the vision is indeed robust or not. If you are not convinced, then go back to the design stage and repeat.
You have a robust vision – how do you make it a reality?
In order to realise your vision you must plot a route from the current position of your organisation and this poses a new set of questions:
Is the journey feasible?
How long will it take?
Do the benefits of realising the vision justify the risks of the journey?
Can you realise many of the benefits of the vision without incurring the larger risks of the journey?
How likely is it for someone else to realise the vision if you do not
Would it be better to start afresh rather that trying to change the current organisation?
These are difficult questions to answer. However, answer them you must, in order to decide the actual destination you are going to aim for.
With the destination agreed, you now need to create the detailed plan for the journey. This can be achieved again by using your experts, this time including experienced advocus change facilitators. Planning workshops are an excellent means of combining the knowledge of your experts to produce credible plans with high levels of internal and external buy in.
At this point you should have created your strategic plan – all you need now is to implement it!
If this has got you thinking and you would like to discuss how we can help you with your strategic plans then please call us for a no cost exploratory meeting.
© advocus August 2005
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2. From planning to reality approach
Clearly there are many reasons why good plans fail, however let’s mention a few common ones:
- Ineffective leadership
- Poorly defined ownership
- Lack of sufficient resources
- No regular forum to monitor and drive progress
- Lack of consensus to key decisions
- Over-optimistic view of progress
In short, to succeed every plan needs a committed leader, with clear goals, clearly understood responsibilities, sufficient resources, good progress monitoring, a robust decision making process, and, above all, realism.
Things will still go wrong from time to time, but the team will cope better if the fundamentals above are in place from the start.
We need a committed leader!
The greatest achievements are realised from the clarity of vision, burning desire to achieve and driving motivation of committed leaders. Being ‘committed’ means that the leader will give selflessly to realise their dream. Great leaders often demand the same selfless approach from their teams – this can appear unreasonable but generally delivers success!
It is true that different challenges need different levels of commitment and therefore different levels of leadership. A family outing to Snowdon and a climbing expedition to the Himalayas are similar in many respects but have a totally different scale and therefore require totally different levels of skill, ability and, most importantly, leadership.
The more challenging the plan, the more important the leader. If you have a challenging project or change to deliver it is imperative to ensure that you use the best leader that you can – this may be an internal candidate or a temporary / interim appointee with the necessary skills to make the plan happen successfully.
How do you define the qualities of a great leader? Many books have been written on this subject, but I suggest some key qualities – clarity of vision, single-mindedness, the selection of good ‘generals’, the ability to communicate across a wide audience and refusal to accept failure.
Clarity of vision – this is vitally important if the plan is to succeed. The leader must have absolute clarity of what success looks like and most importantly this vision must be one that is shared and supported by the immediate team and also by the wider business. It’s not always important for the leader to understand the detailed ‘nitty-gritty’ of the end solution but the greater the knowledge of the underlying processes, mechanics or operation the more likely the chance of success. Winston Churchill was a great strategist but this was supported in depth by his knowledge of what it is like to fight on the front line.
Single-mindedness – great leaders are very focussed on the key objectives of the plan, what to achieve, what to preserve, what to eliminate and what to avoid. They will not be swayed from the end goal. Fuzziness is forbidden.
Selection of good ‘generals’ – a great leader understands the importance of bringing in good managers below him. Good managers challenge the leader in private and support him in public. They understand the strengths and weaknesses of the leader and are totally supportive in the knowledge that realising the end vision is paramount.
Ability to communicate – great leaders communicate excellently with the immediate team and the wider world, to support the end goal. They communicate constantly with individuals, the team, the Board, the competition (enemy), the media and anyone else that can positively or negatively impact the success of the plan. A topical example would be football managers of today – Mourinho, Ferguson and Wenger know how to communicate to motivate their team (or is it tribe?) and also undermine the opposition. Often the media will be highly critical of their lack of cooperation or courtesy, however they are not the objectives of the tribal leader (sorry, manager) – team motivation and ultimate success are!
Great leaders also understand the listening end of communication. They will listen hard to everyone, especially their critics. They know that the strength of the vision and team is increased by the effective rebuff of challenges. They also know that ignoring reasonable criticism is dangerous.
Refusal to accept failure (as failure) – great leaders expect great things, of themselves and of others, and don’t see failure as a lack of success. To quote Charles F Kettering: “Failures, repeated failures, are finger posts on the road to achievement. One fails forward toward success”. Great leaders and great teams use failures as part of the learning and motivation process to drive the team forward, to try alternative solutions and to achieve ultimate success.
Therefore, it is clear that selecting the right leader for the right challenge is imperative; otherwise the plan will fail or struggle along, at best.
Ownership, ownership, ownership!!!!!
If a plan is to succeed then it is vital that individuals, not teams, not groups, and not pairs, but individuals properly own each of the constituent activities! Multiple ownership of an activity generates fuzziness, lack of accountability and, ultimately, failure. Singular ownership eliminates the “Everybody, Somebody, Anybody and Nobody” syndrome.
It is important to make sure that each planned activity, decision and minuted action has an individual owner. It does not matter how many people will be involved in the successful undertaking of the activity, one person and one person only must be accountable for the outcome.
Ownership must not be conferred, it must be accepted. An activity can only be properly owned if the owner has openly accepted accountability. In a meeting the minuted actions should always be owned by someone present at the meeting, otherwise they may not be owned at all. It is completely allowable for ownership to be accepted within the meeting and then properly delegated outside the meeting, but only with the consent of the new owner.
I would suggest that for projects to be successful it is necessary to be very strong about this ownership point – ownership must be always singular and consented to.
For a ha’p’orth of tar the ship was lost.
All plans need resources. All activities need resources. I have come across some managers who do not understand, or want to understand, this! They subscribe to the power of ‘parallel processing’, i.e. the same person doing more than one activity simultaneously. It simply cannot be done!
When the plans are created in detail it is vital to ensure that all required activities have a dedicated and appropriate person with the necessary tools and resources to complete them. It is false economy to under-resource, especially in the early stages of the plan. An under-resourced plan will ultimately take longer, cost more and/or fail.
How do you know if you have sufficient resources? Simple! Ask the people who have been allocated the activities – they will tell you. If you disagree with them then it is essential to reach a consensus or otherwise find someone else to do the work. One thing is for sure; if the doers of the activities do not accept that the resources available are sufficient then the activity will not be completed successfully.
If a plan is worth doing then it’s worth doing well! Obvious, but true.
That which gets measured, gets managed.
The leader is committed, the objectives are clear, the plan is detailed, owned and resourced, what can go wrong? Plenty!
The progress of every plan always encounters unexpected situations or events – it is a fact of life that we cannot see into the future. The progress of the plan must be monitored and discussed at regular intervals, in order to manage and modify changes that may be necessary.
What should be measured? Only three things – time, cost and quality.
What is important is not so much how much time and cost has been spent to date, or the current level of quality [although they are informative], it is the projected time, cost and quality of the completed plan. It is essential to ask for these projections and the supporting rationale throughout the life of the project and to robustly challenge the projections, looking for weaknesses.
It is important not to throw good money after bad! If the plan has now become bad then initiate activity to remedy it. If it can’t be remedied, then stop. Always be realistic about future progress – if you find this difficult then get a trustworthy independent 3rd party to give you a view.
The question I am always asked is “How often should progress be monitored?” In reality this depends on how quickly the end result might change. If the plan and environment are very stable then monitoring can be less frequent, if they are volatile then monitoring should be more frequent. Monitoring generally gets more frequent as the plan gains momentum and nears its conclusion. I would suggest that, rather than having a fixed period between each progress session, the date of the next session is agreed at the end of the previous. In this way closer monitoring of new issues and risks can be allowed for as the project progresses.
Decisions get better and stronger the more discussion and challenge they get. A decision always sticks if it has the consensus of the team. So, if you are able, get the key people on the team to talk through and agree on a critical decision before going firm on it.
I accept that some decisions need to be taken very quickly or the moment passes. In such cases discussion may be impossible, however recognise the difference between a quick must-take-now decision and those less time dependent. Always allow reasonable discussion time – you will benefit in the longer run.
It would be foolish to suggest that if you look after the points above that your plans will always become reality, however I believe that the chances of your success will be significantly increased.
If this has got you thinking and you would like to discuss how we can help you make your plans a reality then please call us for a no cost exploratory meeting.
© advocus 2006
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3. Top 10 tips for running successful change projects
Common Project Problems
I am sure you will recognise a number of the situations below:
- You cannot get the project started!
- The project is late.
- The project is costing too much.
- No one seems to know how the project is progressing against time, cost or quality targets.
- You cannot get the project finished!
- The project has finished but many people do not think it is a success because their specific objectives and expectations have not been fulfilled.
- The project team are distracted by ‘business as usual’ and/or other projects.
- The project is proceeding okay but ‘business as usual’ or other projects are suffering badly due to distraction.
- The project is being sabotaged by ‘rogue’ directors or managers who do not agree with it.
- The project team are not pulling together in the same direction and much time and effort is being spent resolving conflicts.
- There are many concerns about the project, which are not being addressed.
That’s right, we have all had the same problems. But why? Undertaking projects is not a new activity. Most of us have been involved in a number of projects, some successful and some not. Why do we still get into difficulties? This is not such an easy question to answer, but I believe that the most significant root causes of the problems are:
- Ineffective project leadership and management.
- Poor project initiation.
- Lack of clear and comprehensive project objectives.
- Lack of consensus to project decisions by key players.
- Ineffective management of project issues and risks.
- Over-optimistic targets for project timescales and costs.
Top 10 Tips
In order to avoid the type of problems mentioned above I recommend you use some or all of the recommendations below. The more significant the project the more beneficial these will be. I have tried to put them into chronological order for a project.
1. Appoint An Effective Project Sponsor.
Who will be an effective Project Sponsor? Usually a director, certainly a senior manager with enough authority to get issues resolved. The Sponsor must believe in the benefits of the project and display passion for its success. The Sponsor must be involved in the regular project progress meetings and must not be seen as separated from the project team.
2. Appoint An Effective Project Manager
Who will be an effective Project Manager? Ideally someone who has managed a similar project in the organisation before, but this is not always possible. What is vital is that the Manager has enough time available to manage the project. I would recommend a dedicated Manager every time unless the project is very small.
It is preferable for the Manager to be familiar with the organisation and also experienced with standard methods of project management. The Project Manager must be able to work effectively with the Project Sponsor and therefore the Sponsor should be involved in and approve the Manager’s appointment. The Manager must be committed and lead by example, focussing on the three key project performance measures of time, cost and quality.
3. Arrange A Project ‘Kick Off’ Workshop
This workshop will need skilful and objective facilitation to ensure that all parties get their viewpoints included and to sort the input into a manageable and actionable output. I would recommend that the facilitator is someone outside the organisation in which the project will take place. This will allow them to be objective and not constrained by their place in the hierarchy of the organisation. It is very difficult for a director or line manager to act as a facilitator; there will many factors outside of the project that will get in the way of objectivity. Ideally the facilitator should have a neutral opinion within the project and just strive for consensus.
4. Identify The Type Of Project You Are Undertaking
I will illustrate this by example.
House builders have a very methodical approach to building houses, they have undertaken such a project many times, and they are very familiar with the ‘what’ and the ‘how’. Their approach is to produce very detailed plans both of the finished house and the plan to build it. Then they manage the plan tightly to ensure time and cost are minimised in producing a quality product. In this case house builders are ‘painting by numbers’.
A house builder that decides to revolutionise the customer experience of buying a house is taking on a completely different type of project. They will never have undertaken a similar project before nor will they have experience of the end-point. At the outset they will have little idea as to the ‘what’ or the ‘how’. Drawing up and tightly monitoring project work plans too early will be counter-productive. A better approach would be to try to find someone from outside the organisation who has previously revolutionised the customer experience of buying something and tap his or her brain for a sensible approach. In any case there will probably be periods of uncertainty during the project when trial and error will play its part. Estimating and managing the time and cost on this project will be much looser than for building houses! The house builder is now ‘walking in fog’.
Knowing the type of project you are undertaking will help you to manage it better.
5. Create A Detailed Understanding Of The Desired Project Outcome
A good time for doing this would be during the Project ‘Kick Off’ Workshop. Focus the group on reaching a consensus as to what all the objectives are for the project. Do not only concentrate on what is to be achieved, but also consider what is to be preserved, eliminated and avoided. Remember the times in the past when you achieved a goal but unfortunately it came with a side effect you did not want. Full identification of project objectives will help you avoid those unwanted side effects.
You can get an enhanced clarity of the project outcome by asking the entire workshop group to imagine what life will be like after a successful implementation of the project. Considering the five senses is a good approach to this. What will success look, feel, sound, smell and taste like? This is a powerful method of extracting the expectations of the project from all key players.
6. Obtain Consensus To Decisions From The Key Players
If you do not have consensus then you have conflict. If you do not have agreement then you have disagreement. You will spend much more time attempting to manage conflicts and disagreements than you will in reaching an acceptable consensus. The debate that precedes consensus will also give those involved a much better understanding of the issues involved.
7. Create High Level Project Plans With All Key Players
8. Include Key Players In Project Steering Meetings
9. Actively Manage Project Issues And Risks
10. Be Realistic About The Resources Required To Achieve Success
11. Appoint An Independent Project Mentor
It is possible to appoint an effective Mentor from within the same organisation as the project, however he or she must pass the independence challenge and be remunerated and managed from outside the business unit of the project. In normal circumstances a Mentor will need to spend between 2 and 4 days per month on a project. A Mentor’s activities include: one-to-ones with the Project Sponsor, Project Manager, key players and project team members to check for potential pitfalls and unvoiced concerns; attendance of Project Steering Meetings; review of key project documentation; ad hoc facilitation as may be required from time-to-time.
OK, so my top ten tips turned into eleven!! It is always a good idea to include at least 10% time and cost contingency when planning a project – so I guess I should have said my top ten or eleven tips!
I wish you success with all projects you undertake.
© advocus August 2005
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If you would like to discuss either the recommendations above or a specific project that you are involved with then we would be delighted to hear from you
4. Implementing major business initiatives - the do's and dont's
What are the most important factors in successfully implemented initiatives? What are the real big issues? Let’s get straight to it – major dos and don’ts!
Find an effective senior sponsor. If no-one senior is committed to the initiative forget it now! Even if they say they are, you had better check whether their actions back up their words. A committed sponsor leads from the front.
Appoint an effective project manager. No major initiative succeeded without an experienced project professional leading it. Find someone good before you start otherwise you will waste time and money.
Arrange a ‘kick off’ workshop with all key parties. You must get buy-in from the key players at the start of the project. If you don’t then again time and money will be wasted. Trying to get buy-in from key players later is an extremely demanding task.
Use a good workshop facilitator. A good workshop generating good outputs and buy in does not happen easily. Make sure the person who facilitates the workshop is independent and good at eliciting input from all attendees. A facilitator who comes with an agenda other than neutrally running the workshop will fall at the first fence.
Create a detailed vision of the desired project outcome. If you don’t know where you are going don’t be surprised if you end up nowhere! Projects are about change and change means gaining something you don’t have now or losing something you do have now. Make sure you identify clearly what you want to gain, what you don’t want to gain, what you want to lose and what you don’t want to lose.
Strive for consensus at all times. If you do not have consensus then you have conflict. If you do not have agreement then you have disagreement. The positive power of consensus is not to be underestimated, nor is the negative power of conflict. The debate that precedes consensus also gives those involved a much greater understanding of the issues involved.
Be honest. No one likes to be duped. Few people get duped by the same person twice. Life is full of harsh realities and people cope with them. What people don’t cope with well is the unknown or falsehoods. Treat adults as adults. Tell them straight or tell them nothing, don’t dupe them!
Create detailed plans and keep them up to date. Create project plans top-down then validate them bottom-up. Get consensus and buy in from the key players from the start. The kick off workshop is a good place to do this; it gets everyone off on the same foot. A plan is out of date the moment it is created, so make sure it is reviewed and updated regularly throughout the project.
Demand singular ownership. The responsibility for an action must be singular. One person must be responsible for its successful completion, even though many may be involved. This is critical. Multiple ownership of an activity generates fuzziness, lack of accountability and ultimately failure. Singular ownership eliminates the “Everybody, Somebody, Anybody and Nobody” syndrome.
Hold regular inclusive progress meetings. At least monthly hold progress meetings with all the key players. Discuss progress candidly at these meetings – the aim is to surface issues and risks not conceal them. Revise the plan depending on progress. Do not fall into the trap of thinking that a progress meeting slows progress. What it does in fact is to make future progress quicker and more effective!
Actively manage significant issues and risks. Discuss issues and risks at every progress meeting and decide which require action now. Make sure the actions have singular ownership and follow them up until resolved. Make sure that issues and risks are real and significant before generating action; it is a waste of valuable time trying to resolve trivial concerns.
Be realistic. It is counter-productive to be over-optimistic about time and money. If a plan does not allow realistic time and resources then the team will be overworked, deliverables will be late, explanations will waste time and motivation will be low. I do recommend that stretching targets are set as long as the people who are responsible for their achievement believe they are attainable.
Appoint an independent project mentor. If you want an objective view of the project then someone outside the project team must give it. The sponsor and project manager are best served by appointing an external mentor whose role is to review, report and advise on project health. This will help early identification of issues and their effective resolution. The project mentor must be independent and not be directly impacted by the outcome of the project or any of the decisions during its progress.
Have contingency. The best-laid plans can suffer an unexpected twist. Make sure that you always have an escape route out in such circumstances. At all times consider ‘what is the worst that could realistically happen?’ and ensure that there is contingency that would avoid significant damage.
Muddle along at the start. Don’t think that by skipping proper project initiation that you will save time – the opposite is true!
Avoid or ignore a key player because he or she is difficult work with. All key players must be bought in at the start or they will undermine the project later. If you cannot get buy in from all key players then do not proceed until they are bought in or replaced.
Leave conflict resolution until later, sort it now! Opposition, fear and uncertainty grow fast if not dealt with. Face challenges as they arise and reach a consensus before moving on.
Be a nanny. Treat everyone as an adult, capable of dealing with reasonable difficulties. However be sympathetic to understandable reactions to bad news. If someone cannot handle a problem situation then try to understand why and help him or her. Avoiding issues does not solve them, obvious but true.
Be unrealistic. Be positive yes but keep the rose-tinted glasses firmly in your pocket. Nothing switches people off quicker that over-optimism. Accept the scale of the task and involve the team in planning to complete it.
Expect people to ‘parallel process’. No one can undertake more than one significant activity at one time. Recognise this and ensure that all tasks are properly resourced. Scour the project plans for signs that a person is booked twice for a day or even a week. I guarantee that one or both tasks will be incomplete or late.
Assume anyone else knows what you know. In other words – communicate, communicate and communicate again. It is better to repeat some information a couple of times than to forget altogether. Often people do the wrong thing because they are not up to date with the latest news or decisions. Always consider at the end of any meeting who else needs to know the outcome.
Obviously there are many other dos and don’ts but I hope this has given you some food for thought with my observations. If you would like to discuss this article then we would be delighted to hear from you.
© advocus August 2007
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5. Excitement, deflation, realism then progress
After they agree the vision then they compare current situations. Do they all have enough holiday allowance left? Do they have parents’ or partner’s permission? Do they have the necessary cash? Where will they be travelling from? This bit is usually deflating.
However when everyone’s situation is shared then the true vision and holiday destination can be decided. Generally this results in a less exciting destination than some hoped and also some dropouts who can’t or don’t want to make the trip. Then the detailed planning begins based on realism with everyone involved to avoid errors and omissions.
I think you will find the same is true about a business going on a holiday. Well businesses don’t go on holidays do they, but they all go on journeys (to the Promised Land!)
A business first needs a vision (not a destination!). This then gets shared with the holidaymakers (sorry, stakeholders) and everyone gets excited, either positively or negatively. Visions are rarely any good unless they stir up excitement. Some people may dropout at this stage because they don’t like the vision.
Then everyone gets deflated, when they share where they currently are and how far away the vision is. This is usually at the kick-off workshop. But this stage is vital and leads to positive action based on realism. Some people may dropout at this stage because the challenge is too big for them. Then the detailed planning begins based on realism with everyone involved to avoid errors and omissions.
So journey planning involves all passengers going through excitement, deflation, reality, buy-in and planning. If you have jumped from excitement straight to realism, without going through deflation, then you had better check your view of realism with all the other passengers because it probably is not shared!
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6. Everybody, Somebody, Anybody and Nobody - The power of ownership
There was an important job to be done and Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it.
Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it.
Somebody got angry about that because it was Everybody's job.
Everybody thought that Anybody could do it, but Nobody realised that Everybody wouldn't do it.
It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have done
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7. The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing [from the book by by Al Ries and Jack Trout]
2. If you can't be first in a category, set up a new category you can be first in.
3. It is better to be first in the mind than to be first in the marketplace.
4. Marketing is not a battle of products, it's a battle of perceptions.
5. The most powerful concept in marketing is owning a word in the prospect's mind.
6. Two companies cannot own the same word in the prospect's mind.
7. The strategy to use depends on which rung you occupy on the ladder.
8. In the long run, every market becomes a two horse race.
9. If you are shooting for second place, your strategy is determined by the leader.
10. Over time, a category will divide and become two or more categories.
11. Marketing effects take place over an extended period of time.
12. There is an irresistible pressure to extend the equity of the brand.
13. You have to give up something to get something.
14. For every attribute, there is an opposite, effective attribute.
15. When you admit a negative, the prospect will give you a positive.
16. In each situation, only one move will produce substantial results.
17. Unless you write your competitor's plans, you can't predict the future.
18. Success often leads to arrogance, and arrogance to failure.
19. Failure is to be expected and accepted.
20. The situation is often the opposite of the way it appears in the press.
21. Successful programs are not built on fads, they're built on trends.
22. Without adequate funding, an idea won't get off the ground
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