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My Corporate Blog

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My Corporate Blog

My Comcast corporate blog on a hackathon I recently sponsored.

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80% is good enough for me.

I’ve heard the following statement one too many times in my career…

“We can’t proceed because we don’t have all the requirements signed off on!”

Double News Flash (my new favorite phrase): You never will.

If you ask the same people how many projects and efforts they worked on ever NEVER changed after requirements were “locked” they will probably tell you ‘none’. So why the big emphasis on having everything known when you’re just going to change a bunch of things anyway? All you end up doing is endlessly debating the edge cases and “what if’s.” When the bulk of what you’re looking to accomplish has already been agreed to.

I follow the philosophy (in work, and in many cases life) that knowing 80% is good enough for me to move forward.

Follow the 80% approach and I guarantee you, you’ll get more done. Will you have to do re-work? Sure, but you were going to do that anyway when the inevitable changes happened (as you told me they always do). As long as you agree to the most critical pieces of your project in the 80%, all you really need to do then is manage change to accommodate the rest. You’ll get started a lot faster too since it’s always easy to agree on the first 80% (it’s the 20% that takes you all the time). You can adapt as you go, you’re going to do it anyway.

So stop telling me you don’t have all the requirements. If you have 80% of them, get started and quit wasting time.


Simple Elegance: Stop over-thinking things.

Why is it that smart people always need to find complicated solutions to problems? Can we “over-architect” or “over-collaborate”?

Ever had a 15 minute conversation with your family on the best way to carpool and drive to a location, when said location is less than 15 minutes away? Ever drive around a parking lot with someone debating and searching aimlessly for the closest spot to the entrance when you could have had your shopping done in the same amount of time?

Is it our need to drive efficiency or perfection? The satisfaction that comes from solving a problem in a way that no one has even thought of? Are we (yes, I put myself in this category) all ego driven Type-A’s beating our chest at the need to scream “Look what we have created! It is flawless.”

I was recently in a meeting where we were discussing the possible options for solving a complicated software design issue that had been plaguing our systems for some time. We locked a bunch of our smartest folks in a room and spent three hours working through every permutation ever imagined. We were collaborating-fools, hell-bent on working together as a team. Our managers and former business professors would be proud at how we put our heads together to find a better solution than we could have come up with ourselves. We drew all sorts of pretty pictures on the whiteboard taking each architects “view” into consideration and designing something that was a thing of beauty. Each permutation of our solution better than the first, taking into consideration each “but what if…” comment made on some edge case scenario someone thought of. Each architect’s “what if” trumping the next one and adding to our solution. At the end we had one of the most complicated designs I had ever seen. An elaborate Jackson Pollock-like picture filled with countless bubbles (“systems”) and wires (“interfaces”) strung together. This was an architecture to put under glass and admire from every angle. A solution that should be aged, decanted and held to the light to marvel at.

The only problem was, the solution we designed couldn’t be implemented. It was so complex that it would have taken a team of people to operate it, a new budget to pay for it, and a five years to implement it. Sure it was fun to come up with, but a total waste of time.

The next week we brought a much smaller team of those same thought-leaders back to the drawing board to discuss the same issue. This time we set some ground rules:

  • Any solution needed be attainable in a year’s time.
  • Any solution needed to consider the business objectives and timeline
  • Any solution needed to consider our resource constraints
  • Any solution needed to be easy to operate and maintain

The result: 30 minutes into the next 3 hours meeting we came up with a solution that we’ve begun referring to as “simplistic elegance.” It didn’t meet every edge case, but it met a majority. It wasn’t completely “future proof” or “100% strategic” but it was a good step in the right direction. It had imperfections, but none that would cause anyone to view it as a ‘hack.’ It was a solution the architects, business, finance, and executives could get behind with very little disagreements.We stopped thinking about it, and put it to action.

So the question we’ve now put to our team is how we drive ‘simple elegance’ into our culture. How can we as leaders in-grain this thinking into our teams without stifling creativity, collaboration, and serious problem solving?

I haven’t yet found the answer yet, but I’m pretty sure I’m not going to over-think it. Stay tuned…

 


Go on an IT diet!

Yes, IT community, we’re fat. I hate to be cruel, but we could stand to lose a few. We’re bloated, slow, and unattractive. We need to go on a diet.

Obviously I’m not talking about being physically fat, but bloated with the “stuff” that consumes our companies. Our trans-fats are meetings, our complex carbohydrates are the complex processes we deploy that don’t work. We consume so much time working on projects, creating documents, and other things that add little to no nutritional value to our jobs.

A few months ago I took a look at my calendar and realized that there was only a single 30 minute window where I didn’t have a meeting scheduled that week. In many cases I was double and triple booked at the same time. My calendar was an all-you-can-buffet. An overfilled plate of fried chicken, chocolate pudding and pancakes. There was stuff on there that I didn’t need, didn’t want and having me there added little value to the objective. More importantly, where was my time to do any “real” work? What was I giving up or risking to eat at this trough?

So I went on a meeting diet. I went through my calendar and shed meetings that weren’t essential. As you might have guessed, the week was extremely productive. I realize this is a “no duh” conclusion, but like any diet, it was temporary. Last week I found myself right back at the Microsoft Outlook Family Diner. So I fasted again. And I became productive again.

As anyone who has dieted for real and kept weight off will tell you, the only way to sustain is to make a lifestyle change and form habit. So my challenge to myself and to others is how to change your habits or culture at work to constantly trim back on the work clutter that consumes your time. As you also might have guessed, this can also apply to your personal lives and the things you do that bog you down from doing the important things.

The challenge: Implement an “Anti-Google” policy. You all know the famous Google 80/20 innovation plan where employees are given a day each week to create and innovate? I’d like for you to do the opposite. Maybe not a day, but look to dedicate a mandatory period of time to kill things, not create them. What meetings aren’t important? Kill em. What processes don’t work? Kill em. What system are old and outdated that waste your time? Yeah, kill them too. 30 minutes abs…how about a 30 minute slash?

Opening up time by removing the things that are not critical will obviously lead to more time to do the things that matter. So look to change your culture and make your IT diet sustainable and engrained. Live a healthy workload lifestyle and see how much more you can accomplish.


Connectors and Their Role in Collaboration

In our personal lives we all know someone who seems to have strange connections to other people we know. Someone that seems to always know where to go to find someone for a problem we have.  A person that “knows a guy that can get you that for cheap”, or “used to work with that guy’s sister..”, or for some weird reason “plays basketball with your dentist on the weekends.”

In the corporate world, we’ve got the same thing. There are people that seem to have a finger on the pulse of all the things that are going on at your company. They always seem to know who to go to for what and who’s working on what. They are typically the type of people who are extremely social, always have lunch plans with co-workers, prefer face to face meetings, and tend to have 500+ Linkedin Connections.

Malcom Gladwell, in his book ‘The Tipping Point” calls these types of people “Connectors.” His claim is that we don’t spend a lot of time thinking about the importance of these kinds of people…and I agree. When applied to a collaboration environment, Connectors are not only useful, but they are essential to ensuring your collaboration community flows and is effective. It doesn’t matter if you’re collaborating on a business plan, doing code reviews or if you’re ideating the next best widget for your company…connectors are the ones that drive Synapse between the network of collaborators in your corporate community.

Here’s a simple example that I experienced recently with an Ideation project I am working on. We sought to croudsource a way to improve the customer experience for how we deliver our products and services through an online web portal. The problem of “how do we improve our process” was posed to a community of employees that spanned geographic location as well as organization.

It started slow with a few ideas trickling into the site without a whole lot of traction. Then an idea to the problem was posed by an individual in our Western Division, we’ll call her Jane. That idea was seen by someone in our corporate group who we’ll call Ben. Ben was a Connector (c), and happened to know that Susan, an employee in our Southern Division happened to be talking about something similar at an off-site leadership conference he had attended. Ben thought Jane’s idea was really interesting so he shared it with Susan (Jane>Ben(c)>Susan). As it turns out, Susan happened to also be a Connector (c) and had been working on this exact problem with 3 other people. She turned around and shared the idea with the others whom had all planned on solving this problem their own way (Jane>Ben(c)>Susan(c)>3 Others).

Long story short, the group of newly connected individuals, from totally different organizations, came up with a much better solution that could be leveraged universally across the company and did it once as opposed to 5 times different ways.  One other thing…this happened in under a week and it was done completely within the web portal (no phone calls or meetings necessary).

Would these folks have been connected without the help of the Connectors? Perhaps, but I am willing to bet that it wouldn’t have happened so quickly. So as you look to build collaboration on your teams or in your organization, don’t wait for them to emerge, seek out the Connectors and pull them into your efforts. I guarantee they will welcome it, because collaboration is a natural and enjoyable exercise for these folks. If you inject them early into your efforts, you increase your chances for success and will exponentially speed up the process.


The Social Media “Knee Jerk”

First off, before diving in I want to clearly state that I am a huge proponent of using social media and Enterprise 2.0 tools both internally and externally for a company. That being said, I believe in order to be successful in evangelizing your efforts, you need to meet with the folks that could potentially put a stop to your plans. Many fail to address the up front work it requires to build a strong security and social media policy as it pertains to these tools and sites within their organization. A lot of attention usually gets paid to how useful these things can be to a business whether that be through marketing, customer care, or sales teams. We paint a model of new customer engagement, new sales channels and a wonderful world of connections and possibilities. However, there are risks associated with doing this. Many corporate security experts will tell you: “If something has the potential to get us in the papers (negatively), we need to be hyper sensitive on how we treat it.” Social media certainly falls into this category. I could choose from a variety of examples, but most recently the GM F-Bomb Tweet and Kenneth Cole’s Egypt-Themed Tweet showcase the ease at which accidents can happen. Other issues could occur such as  “time-wasting”, “discussions of IP sharing”, or inappropriate material being viewed or posted to sites. When issues like these happen without a proper policy and plan for these types of events, the result is what I call the “Social Media Knee Jerk.” Shut it down. Shut it all down while we sort this out.

I am sure there are many reasons why people fail to engage the right security and policy teams up front. I can think of a few:

  • Lack of knowledge into how it’s done.
  • Cloud software is so easy to deploy it may not occur to someone that this could be an issue.
  • Perception that security and policy orgs are too slow and may not see the benefits.
  • Social media is too big of a space and lack of education drives blanket policies that they don’t want to fall under.

Corporations need to move to a model of working with the very teams they tried to avoid, and do so, up front early in the process. Sure, it may be painful at first, but I think most security and policy teams are starting to realize the importance of tools like these (if they haven’t already) and why they are needed to help you do your jobs better. Most will tell you that it’s a matter of risk management to ensure the company is covered in the event that something should happen (which it likely will). Another thing to think about is legislation may change periodically in how companies deal with social media, so having this up-front dialog may not only protect the company, but protect the employees as well. Collaborating with these teams up front also will serve as a way to educate on the business case and the type of work you’re doing and why it’s important to your job.

So to ensure long-term success of your social medial and E20 efforts, engage early and often and don’t fall victim to a ‘knee jerk’ that will halt the process and have you answering questions why it occurred in the first place.


First Post!

This is my first post. Aaaaaaaand, I’m out.