Posts Tagged ‘ActiveGarage’

Leader driven Harmony #42: Working in the Big City

by Mack McKinney on October 29, 2011

It seemed like a small thing but once I finished it, I realized that it was actually a really big deal!  A friend recently left her job in New York City (NYC) and moved to a much smaller city in the southern US.  Today at lunch I saw her file in my Outlook Contacts and when I opened it, noticed that her NYC work address was still there.  As I deleted that address, one character at a time on my Blackberry, I got the most delightful feeling of relief when the last number of the NYC zip code disappeared into the ether!  It was as if I closed a chapter of her life.

I recalled the stress that the City levies on her residents, the constant fear of violent street crime, the challenge of grocery shopping without a car, just the general uneasiness my friend seemed to have whenever I visited her there or we talked on the phone.  She and I watched a drug deal go down across the street from her apartment one summer night.  And the cost of living in Brooklyn was surprisingly high – – -it took almost everything she made to buy the $5 boxes of cereal and the $3 quarts of milk.  And she was always sick.  Sinus infections, a bout of MRSA in a knee that she nicked shaving, a chest cold that wouldn’t go away: There was always something going on with her health.  A physician’s assistant friend told her “Yep, you’ll STAY sick for your first year in NYC because of all the germs that exists there and nowhere else, and the constant influx of immigrants from all over the world – – – nobody has immunity when they first arrive and it takes at least a year to build up a resistance to the bugs”.  We will never know if that would have been true in my friend’s case because she left at the one-year point.

She said the idea of renewing her apartment lease and living another year there was not at all appealing.  She enjoyed the work there as a TV producer and she really liked the company she worked with.  And she liked most of the social life and she loved the restaurants.  But she said the final straw for her was being so tightly packed in a subway car one morning that, with every breath, she inhaled into her mouth the stranger’s hair in front of her.  And she was too tightly sardined to move.  Turning her head helped a little but she apparently made a decision to change jobs (and cities) that morning.  I don’t blame her at all.  I wouldn’t have lasted a month there.  Maybe not a week.

So here’s the deal:

  1. Have some respect for people who endure the City.  They put up with a lot.  And if you need them in your business, as a supplier to you for example, or a customer, be thankful they put up with life there.  It isn’t easy.
  2. Try it yourself sometime.  If your industry/career values time spent in a major metro area, consider NYC for a 6-18 month stint.  You might even like it.  And lastly, well, I don’t have a third point – – –  I’m just VERY glad my friend is out of there and in a friendlier, slower-paced city in America’s southland.

No place is perfect, there is some crime everywhere and she may have issues what some facets of life in Charlotte in the years ahead but the big cities come with their own challenges, which sometimes, get the best of even the bravest and the most enduring!

In Summary: When you conduct business with what seems to be someone who is a little irate, or cold or unapproachable… be patient; you never know what they have endured just to get to that meeting or to make to that conference call…

Copyright: Solid Thinking Corporation

Project Reality Check #16: The Folly of Audits

by Gary Monti on April 5, 2011

“No good deed shall go unpunished,” is crazy but commonly experienced. Why is that? Why would an audit trigger punitive measures? After all, when doing one’s best it would seem safe to assume the value of the work would be recognized and would show in the numbers. This could be considered especially true with this series of blogs since earned value has been trumpeted as the heart of project management. So what is the problem? The purpose and value of reports is a good place to start.

Reports And The Meaning of Numbers

Why have reports? Simple, they sustain communications in a relationship especially when everyone can’t be together at the same time. Consequently, numbers are abstracts – distillates – of a relationship. And now the plot thickens! Communications are complex, multi-channeled, multi-contextual activities. Look at the simple joke:

Take my wife…please!

How many layers (contexts) does that joke have? It has at least two. The joke is in the collision of those contexts. Unfortunately, when that collision of contexts occurs on the job it is more of a tragedy than a comedy. The folly occurs in this collision. It puts very sharp teeth in the bite of “no good deed shall go unpunished.” So, what does this have to do with audits and reports? Plenty. It has to do with context and expectations.

Context and Expectations

So when do audits and reports go haywire?

Audits and reports go haywire when they are laden with expectations that fail to map to the reality of what it takes to get the job done or the reports project an inaccurate balance between all the contexts present.

Looking at the cause of all this will help.

The Devil Is In The Dynamics

There’s an old saying, “The devil is in the details.” There is truth in it. However, it doesn’t cover all situations.

For complex projects the devil is in the dynamics. The failures and flaws are not with the individual person or component. Rather, they exist in the dynamics between the organization and operations.

Most reports are designed to address what senior management believes are the policies and procedures, which are based on management’s expectations. Typically, this is all laid out at the concept and design phase. When a system goes into operations, though, a new element comes into play – reality. Think of the Mars rovers and all that has been done to keep them operational. Unforeseen problems had to be solved. This has led to a much longer life expectancy for the rovers than was ever anticipated. No one is going around blaming scientists and engineers for the problems encountered per the original plan. Instead they are being recognized for throwing themselves into the problems and coming up with solutions. Some work, some don’t. Looks like one rover is down for the count. Overall, though, the program has been a great success.

Listen For The Solution

A chapter can be taken from the Mars situation in generating a solution to poor audits.

The solution to poor audits is in listening; listening for how people work to get things done in spite of the system.

Again, reports are distillates of relationships. This means communication, which is a two-way street. Yes, senior management needs to determine the direction the company needs to go but this should be tempered by and informed from the wisdom and experience of those in the trenches, unless, of course, the managers are clairvoyant. My recollection, though, is years ago Madam Cleo tried that on her cable channel and went bankrupt.

How does it feel when you take the plunge and go out on your own? Is there a mix? One day it’s, “Thank God! I am on my own!” The next it is, “Oh God, no! I am on my own!” It can feel you’ve been set adrift having cut the mooring line to the familiar. Learning how to simultaneously capitalize on opportunities and deal with the existential angst in this entrepreneurial state is the fourth purpose of mythology, i.e., dealing with the psyche or one’s personal psychology. How the psyche develops is critical for making it through threshold experiences.

The psyche forms the foundation for building/discovering needed leadership tools mentioned previously in the first leadership blog, Navigating with an Executive Map and Compass. The path associated with this process is very much a quest. Friedrich Nietzsche expresses it well in Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Let’s see how it works in business.

The Camel, The Lion, and The Baby

When entering the business world one works like a camel dutifully and unquestioningly carrying a workload that gets bigger and bigger. It can lead to promotions. It gets puzzling though, since a limit will eventually be reached beyond which the camel will collapse. The first threshold is met. In order to progress change is required.

What was once exciting, providing a reason to get up in the morning, steadily becomes oppressive and the urge to cry “Enough!” starts forming. Crossing the threshold The Camel surprises others by transforming into The Lion. It attacks the giant beast “Thou Shalt,” which is covered in shiny scales each of which has a rule that must be followed if one is to stay in the current situation. The beast fights furiously since, after all, its rules have brought about the success experienced.

Once the beast is devoured another threshold is reached. The Lion is free, completely free. There is nothing left to fight, to stand against. The Lion stands alone. Movement forward means The Lion must change.

Another extraordinary and extremely demanding transformation must now take place in order to thrive and grow. The Lion transforms into The Baby. In mythology a baby signifies spontaneity, movement from within free of concern for consequence, free of rebelliousness. It is aware, bringing forward all experiences from the past. (See Buddhism or 2001: a Space Odyssey for more.)

Similar to The Baby Nietzsche writes about The Wheel. The Wheel is unique. It moves from within. It is neither pushed nor pulled. It seeks its own path without knowing where it will go. We know it in business as The Entrepreneur.

You’re So Lucky

How challenging and threatening can this be? This story may sound familiar. On one assignment there was a client employee who constantly complained about how lucky I was because of hourly rate, freedom to move from client to client, etc. This grew tiresome. When it started to interfere with my position on the project I said, “You are right. I’ll sit here while you tell your boss you quit. We can go have coffee and talk about how you can be completely on your own.” After that, he stayed with just doing his part of the project.

If you have indigestion from eating beasts or your wheel is beginning to wobble send me an e-mail at gwmonti@mac.com or visit www.ctrchg.com.

NBA, NHL and your company’s Key Performance Indicators

by Brian Superczynski on June 7, 2010

For sports fans this is an exciting time of the year with both the NBA and NHL finals taking place simultaneously.

There’s added excitement this year with the renewal of the classic Lakers and Celtics rivalry and the Chicago Blackhawks looking for their first Stanley Cup championship since 1961.

As in sports, companies and internal departments need to identify key performance metrics which translate to success in their industry.

Just as analysts review a company’s balance sheet and operational metrics, many fans and sports analysts refer to team and player statistics in order to support their predictions of who will win their respective league championship.   In the NBA finals, they’ll be citing each team’s shooting percentage from the free throw line and the field as a key performance indicator. In hockey, there are the obvious statistics of number of power play goals and goals against average.  But this year, analyst have cited the unusual statistic of Chicago’s offense scoring 11 goals with 10 different players as a key indicator of its success through game 3 of the championship series.   The implication is identifying the Stanley Cup series specific statistics over and above the commonly followed season statistics in order for either team to make adjustments to win the Cup.

Many organizations today do a terrific job at measuring their own teams’ statistics – take the airline industry for example: they measure the use of number of seat miles for which the company earned revenues.  What’s more difficult is identifying meaningful performance indicators at the departmental or individual level within an organization?  Effective identification and translation of organizational specifics makes an executive’s job easier when identifying and adjusting to trends, defending team budgets, identifying savings opportunities, and even negotiating contracts.  This is especially true within an IT organization.

One of my favorite Information technology metrics which typically does not appear on the company’s balance sheet or in the annual report but translates into effective IT performance are the metrics related to desktop or PC support. I like these metrics because Joe the worker at Company X probably does not care anything about IT metrics.  But Joe and his peers know who to call for problems with their PC’s.  You know – the “IT guy” who the department takes out to an appreciation lunch once or twice a year.  Keep Joe and his peers happy and that will translate to good scores for IT support.  Remotely identifying and correcting Joe’s PC problems at the help desk is almost always the most efficient and cost effective way to provide desktop support.  Therefore statistics such as average time to answer and mean time to repair (MTTR) are often cited as an accurate performance measurement of the desktop support unit.  These statistics have further downstream implications for identifying the desktop to technician ratios or the number of technicians required to be in the field when problems cannot be solved remotely or over the phone with an agent.  Organizations which typically resolve most incidents remotely with an agent do not need as many field technicians and therefore have high desktop to field technician ratio’s and are considered the most cost efficient.

But just as the Lakers, Celtics, Blackhawks and Flyers will be identifying opportunities and adjustments based upon shot percentages and other common game time metrics, an organization must know how to translate their metrics into performance-improving activities.  Although the Flyers have allowed goals by 10 different players after three games, they have been able to hold the Blackhawks top scorers this season to just one goal in the finals.  So in some respect, part of the Flyers game plan may be working in shutting down the opposing team’s top scorers and the high number of individual goals per Blackhawk player is a positive metric.

Using the same analogy, there may be reasons why an IT organization has metrics which are out of line with industry standards and those reasons need to be well understood to justify costs.  In the desktop support example cited above, a company may require higher PC to technician ratios due to Joe’s high availability requirements.  For example, our friend Joe is an order taker on a trading floor and does not have the time to call the help desk and work with an agent to solve problems with his PC while the markets are open.  The same dynamic is also seen in the healthcare industry within clinical environments, where nurses and doctors are focused on treating patients and do not have the bandwidth to diagnose problems accessing automated medical records from PC’s.  In these environments, it would obviously be acceptable to experience higher desktop to field support ratio’s to insure key functions within the company have highly available systems and support.  Understanding these dynamics is critical when performing organizational benchmarking activities and considering out source opportunities.  With regard to outsourcing, you’ll want to understand how a supplier is proposing to achieve savings.  Are they proposing to increase the number of PC’s a technician supports from 250 to 500 devices? If their model is predicated by resolving more calls remotely at the help desk you’ll want to closely examine the impact to your organization.  Having a deep understanding of your metrics will allow you to better negotiate support costs within your company and negotiate actionable savings strategies offered by department heads and suppliers.

The challenge is to drive meaningful measurements to all levels within your organization.  Ask your management chain to identify metrics which translate to their group’s success.  Then ask them why the metrics are meaningful and actionable and what needs to be done to improve the scores.  I would also suggest that if the measurements are not actionable then they are probably not the right performance indicators to be tracking.

For those deep thinkers out there, I hope these insights will not cause you to become distracted with thoughts of your company’s metrics while watching the NBA and NHL finals.

For those of you wondering, Blackhawks in six games with Kane becoming the scoring leader and Lakers in five by taking advantage of Celtic fouls and a higher free throw percentage.

Social Media and Tribes #1: Tribal behaviors 2.0

by Deepika Bajaj on May 26, 2010

Media was designed to be an medium for the message of man. It was a way to broadcast a message to be able to connect with a community that might have interest in what you might have to stay. MOST importantly it was the extension of our Human Tribe. A Tribe which was based on interaction of the social community – where commerce was created through referrals, recommendations and participation. The objective was to tap into the intrinsic behavior of the TRIBE and most often people were motivated by certain social behaviors and NOT necessarily by money.

In traditional media, the idea was to blast something to everyone who had a device like TV, radio to receive it. These medium was designed to interrupt people like an ad within a TV program, a song on the radio or an article in the newspaper. It was an intrusive way of marketers to grab attention and shove their message. They wished that people will be touched by their message and will be moved into action to buy, refer or participate.

Here is the major issue with all of this, the media channels eventually took over the control of what will be printed. Newspaper won’t print anything you sent them. Sometimes, you have to advertise with huge sums of money to get a spot on TV, radio or newspaper. Over time, the power of community to share information over media got depleted. And the Human Tribe which was based on many-to-many communication was reduced to a DICTATOR model of one-to-many communication.

And then arrived social media, suddenly you could print anything on your blog, upload any video and even make your podcast on whatever you fancy. And media became TRIBAL.  We were able to share our opinions, our businesses and our tribes.

Speaking of tribes, the predominant characteristic of tribes throughout time is the need to communicate. So what social media can do combined with a tribal structure is very quickly mobilize a shared interest and becomes a powerful way to communicate. In effect, as Godin, the author of Tribes, says every tribe becomes a media channel.

Keeping this in mind, ActiveGarage team launched 99tribes, a premier site to discover people on twitter who share your interests and become part of their own media channel.

Here is how tribes are shaping their media channel:

  1. Communities as Tribes. People are able to find like-minded people and declare their interests. This allows for them to make themselves “discoverable” by those who share their interests. Given how hard it is to find people in the real world who share your interests, here is a way to become part of YOUR tribe – your own media channel.
  2. Think Tribes Not Market Segments. Modern human tribes are based on our need to use language and communicate. This enables the tribes to reciprocate, help or even hoard each other. This is your tribal broadcast media channel.
  3. Chalk your Tribal path. Each person becomes a valuable contributor of the Tribe and shapes its journey. And brings along people who then shape the tribal path – what will your Tribes journey look like now depends on you. Share and shape the journey on your Tribal media channel.

So, I invite you to become the part of your Tribe. If you have a Twitter account, you can join 99tribes by simply clicking on “add me to the tribes”… and if you don’t, create a Twitter account, join 99tribes and create your own media channel!

Interviews for Business Knowledge

by Guy Ralfe on November 25, 2009

Spill the beansRecently I was asked to step in and conduct an interview for a consulting position. My initial reaction was “not another one!”  For me interviewing seems to have such a high cost to it and also a relatively high failure rate just because people can raise their game momentarily (up to 2 hrs for an interview) but maintaining that performance over a number of months on the job is where proof of the interview and selection becomes apparent.

At the start of the interview I found my mood in the wrong place, the flow of the interview felt strained and awkward for me and I suspect as much for the candidate. I thought to myself ‘how would I like it if I was the candidate?’ If it was me taking the time out of my day to be at the interview, I would want it to be as beneficial to me as possible. I would want a fair chance to present my experiences and competencies to demonstrate the potential value for the hiring organization and I need to make an assessment if this position and company is where I want to take my career.

So then what is the purpose of the interview for the hiring organization? I needed to present the company as a possibility to the candidate, give guidance about the position in order that we can make an informed decision on whether to proceed with the candidate. I was surprised how similar both sides of the process were and really that this was just as important for our organization as it was for the candidate, we don’t want a good candidate turning us down! My mood was quickly adjusted and the interview picked up and became a far more engaging and effective interaction.

Now as the interaction developed I suddenly became aware of another possibility I had been overlooking during my previous interviews – interviews are a learning opportunity!

Most candidates that apply for a position generally get to the interview because they have some tangible experience in a domain that you are seeking to fill. Sometimes they might even come from a competitor, and because of the interview situation candidates are willing to talk more freely than they might otherwise about their experiences and previous organizations.

Now I found myself listening to the candidate, not only for his or her relevant experiences, but also the information that was being provided to describe and substantiate situations. I was suddenly aware of a whole load of information being provided in relation to how a competitor is running their operations.

Some examples of the kinds of information that can be shared are:

  • Sales cycle and licensing structures
  • Potential clients
  • Project structures and execution
  • Project and organizational staffing
  • Project methodologies
  • Charges and rates
  • Salaries and performance plan structures
  • Lessons learned in product delivery
  • Networking and references
  • Product strategy
  • etc

Often people join and attend forums to gather insight into these topics. By looking at an interview as an engagement opportunity, more than just screening candidates, you will be surprised at how much information and learning you can get – remember “knowledge is power in the knowledge age

Interviews are still costly, but if you look at them as a tool to hire candidates and a source of knowledge to evaluate and build your business with – the cost just got a whole lot less.

As a foot note for job seekers: remember you are always being interviewed, during every interaction people draw assessments of you. Many people tell stories about how they were lucky to be in the right place at the right time, the truth is that they produced the right assessment at the right time.

Technology for Technology’s Sake?

by Thomas Frasher on June 23, 2009

technology1

A Simple Question: What is the goal of computer technology development in today’s marketplace?

Some will disagree, however my postulate is that technology development in today’s marketplace has the single goal to support business objectives. Without the satisfaction of business objectives, eventually there is no way to fund new development of the technology, and it becomes deprecated in the marketplace and falls into disuse (assembly language application development, dbaseII, basic programming, etc.).

New technologies bring about the following situations:

  1. New products and the space to create new products.
  2. Shortened time to market – new methods and tools usually focus on productivity improvements.
  3. New methods of development, testing, deployment – minimizing the effort to develop, test, deploy and measure results.
  4. Ability to attract and retain employees by offering interesting projects.

1. New products and the space to create new products are created by new technologies. 30 years ago, most development was done in simple languages that didn’t support modern concepts (Assembly, BASIC, COBOL, and FORTRAN). New concepts such as Object Oriented Design and Programming were a future glimmer, but unachievable with the technology of the time. While still used by segments of the engineering community (embedded systems, legacy code), development of those technologies has substantially slowed. Fast forward and we have systems now that are capable of programming themselves, indeed more and more engineers spend their time specifying work flows and behavior, less time “coding” directly, instead using code generators to process the specification into code for the computer to compile and run. Without these new technologies there would be no modern operating systems, few of the modern programming tools would be available and fewer still the programs that people use to operate their businesses.

2. Time to Market is of paramount importance in these days of worldwide competition. The facticity of the worldwide situation is that there are thousands of equally skilled developers that are spread across the world from Arkansas to Zimbabwe, with the ability to work on projects anywhere in the world.  Basic economics dictates the price for the services these engineers are able to offer; more developers will drive the price downward. For a project to be profitable it must be out in the marketplace and “tested” by the audience of users very quickly.  Missing the time to market window significantly increases the space for the competition to effectively compete, reducing the future possibilities available to exploit, an argument for established technology. Sending out defective software can have a similar effect, an argument for new technology.

3. New methods of development, testing, deployment minimize the effort to develop, test, deploy and measure results.  Newer tools provide for increases in both productivity and quality. Not so readily recognized is that new tools and higher productivity result in higher motivation among the development staff.  Getting “stuck” in old technology is a career dead end if you are unable to keep up with new tools and techniques.

4. Ability to attract and retain employees by offering interesting projects: If you are an employer, offering work that is based on old technology, highly skilled developers will recognize that the position is a dead-end from a technology or career standpoint.  This makes it difficult to attract highly skilled people. This translates as the need to hire lower skilled or otherwise less desirable employees.

Even more difficult to manage is the developers career’s concerns if the business is based on older technology.  Failure to care for that concern will result in employee concerns becoming threats (employees abandoning their positions for new positions).

The downside to staying with old technology for too long is that is a dead-end path.  The facility provided by the language will quickly be outpaced and the development path will be limited by the structure available from the tools.

On the other hand, jumping from technology to technology without completing the business objective raises costs and prevents the satisfaction of the business concerns.

A fine line must be drawn and closely managed with respect to the usage of technology in the business environment.

As with most things it will depend on the business objectives and constraints.