Tagging is futile

test-tagsOne of my favourite subjects to talk about is note taking.

Why?

Because by writing things down I remember them much better. Solidifying it into memory. Otherwise lots of stuff is forgotten and simply replaced by the next set of information. “Meeting overload” I hear you saying. Yes, agreed, there is that. If you haven’t got the time to do something about your recent conversation within a certain amount of time, you (or better I) probably don’t do it at all or far to late.

And there begins my filing system.

The reality is I can’t complete all tasks right now and then. Hence the information must be filed in such a manner I can find again. In addition, I like to store related information together with this note.

Since the invention of tagging, I love it! Gone are the times of fixed categories or double entries ūüôā Tagging allows virtual folders and sorting notes, information, and emails becomes a breeze.

GMail got a ++ from me and Outlook is still lightyears behind. I always struggle to remember if I filed the invoice under budget, the vendor, or contracts.

The other view

For some reason I stumbled today across an old blogpost that condemns tagging. It not only talks about the disadvantages of tagging such as the proliferation of tags, the ease of creating variants that actually should be the same, and the lack of control which without doubt is counterproductive to its original purpose. No, in contrast it makes a case for structure and stigmergy.

If you haven’t heard about this before, neither had I. The principle is that we (as in humans) remember things better in context. Hence, consistency or strong association help. Multiple tags are therefore not necessarily helpful. In my invoice example I will very likely find an invoice in either the tags “contract”, “budget”, or “vendor”. Although, I’m very sure I will not find all invoices that way because for some I might have missed the tag “budget”.

What is the solution?

Personally, I still believe tags are fantastic. They do have their disadvantages and the biggest one is how are tags created and maintained. Categories like in WordPress are one method. Artificial intelligence (“did you mean “xyz”?”) like Google searches when you make a spelling mistakes might also help creating the right or better associations. And when tagging is used across an organisation the services of a librarian – virtual or as a gatekeeper – can also be of great help.

The core requirement is consistency. If half of the company is using a folder structure (e.g. SharePoint’s team sites) and the other half wiki pages (e.g. Confluence) the search for information will never be easy. The same is true for a personal knowledge system. And I’m falling in my own trap from time to time taking notes in my trusty paper notebook one day and using OneNote the next.

My work in progress continues…

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We will

WeWillDriving to work I listen to the radio. When it comes to ads I usually switch the channel. However, sometimes you can’t escape them and some you seem to catch every time. One of these was for me the Crusaders ad “We will”. I found the original ones not to my liking. It didn’t make me want to go and see the game.

Until this week. The tone changed and finally the “We will” hit a nerve.

We will for the jersey. 
We will for each other.
We will for the fans.
WE WILL

The Crusaders are a very successful sports team. And you can read this up on Wikipedia or the Rugby sites on web. Many teams have their ebbs and highs, some are one time wonders, and some never make it.

Germany, for example, is a very successful football nation. However at this years worldcup in Russia they did not perform to their aspired and expected level. A whole nation asked why? The South Korean coach (South Korea beat Germany 2-0 and kicked them effectively out) hit the nail on the head “The Germans weren’t hungry anymore.”

This is where “We will” is so important,

  • it talks about pride (we will for the jersey),
  • it talks about trust (we will for each other), and
  • it talks about customers (we will for the fans).

The psychology of having a significant intrinsic motivation is the keystone of a successful culture. “We will” does that. Germany’s motivation of defending the worldcup and having a pot of gold at the end wasn’t good enough for already successful individuals. The additional controversy with a split loyalty¬†drove a dagger into the team spirit. “Die Mannschaft” wasn’t a team, it was just a collection of exceptional footballers.

For me it is a lesson in leadership. It is not important to have the best engineer, project manager, or business analyst in the team. It is much more important that the people you have

  • know what they need to do and
  • are willing to put the hard work in to make it happen.

That includes everybody and includes trusting each other and helping each other out. I’m thinking the doing, the learning, the planning, the supporting, and good measure of pragmatism.

Acknowledgement:
header image copyright Crusaders.co.nz

The hard work begins

John Wooden Pyramid Of SuccessClose to 2 weeks into the new role things begin to take shape. There is certainly a lot of “stuff” to do ranging from re-forming the team, providing direction, to setting a few guidelines in place. While I was going through the environmental parameters, the change patterns, and the strategic objectives I came across John Wooden’s pyramid of success.¬†I found it fascinating and so applicable to my thinking and the process I’m working through that I decided to share it.

Please note the image has been published by Theresa Kimm in 2014.

John’s Pyramid of success was based on the following creed he received from his father at his graduation:

  1. Be true to yourself.
  2. Make each day your masterpiece.
  3. Help others.
  4. Drink deeply from good books, especially the Bible.
  5. Make friendship a fine art.
  6. Build a shelter against a rainy day.
  7. Pray for guidance and give thanks for your blessings every day.

which he translated to a 12 point list of leadership lessons

  1. Good values attract good people
  2. Love is the most powerful four-letter word
  3. Call yourself a teacher
  4. Emotion is your enemy
  5. It takes 10 hands to make a basket
  6. Little things make big things happen
  7. Make each day your masterpiece
  8. The carrot is mightier than the stick
  9. Make greatness attainable by all
  10. Seek significant change
  11. Don’t look at the scoreboard
  12. Adversity is your asset

A damn powerful list! Most I agree without thinking about, some I would have worded probably different, a few I might not have thought of straight away and one (highlighted) I wouldn’t have included.

Don’t look at the scoreboard.

Our culture is build around “what is measured gets done / is managed / ..”. Quality control and lean management can’t exist without metrics and measures. So, how can a very successful NBA coach have a principle of ignoring the scoreboard? Doesn’t he need to re-act when his team isn’t performing at their best?

The answer to that conundrum is hidden in the pyramid of success and a strong belief that when you do the right things and do them well success is the natural outcome.

The cornerstones of the pyramid are hard work (industriousness) and a strong belief in what you are trying to achieve (enthusiasm). The foundation is nothing else then respect of your teams strengths and abilities coupled with enduring willingness to work together (friendship, loyalty, cooperation).

The second layer is aimed at the individual concerning their sincerity and ambition. Determination, Decision making, and Active Listening are 3 of these 4 elements. The 4th one “self control” or “emotion is your enemy” reminds me of my time in the German Army. The sergeant who was leading parts of training said to us, “When something goes wrong and it goes to your head, don’t act straight away. There is usually time to sleep it over. Review the situation with fresh eyes and make a much more rational decision about it.” I feel good to recall that advise and find it on the pyramid of success.

The middle layer centres around skill. Although it makes clear that your attitude and the team spirit are essential to make success enduring. That level is key to next: Poise and Integrity. I think, I rambled about posture in an earlier post citing Isabel Allende. That is exactly the essence of this layer.

Which leave the capstone “competitive greatness”:

Be at your best when your best is needed. Your best is needed every day.

And if you do all that and your team is doing that, too there is no need to look at the scoreboard because success will come. Quality assurance is not neglected, on the contrary, it is built into each step on the way.

A new Beginning

Change AheadMy adventures at a local government agency are coming to an end this Friday. Since my last post I carved a position of trust, knowledge and influencing leadership.

  • in the shared fleet a car got named after me
  • people in my team ask me for advise on how to deal with complex situations, act on it, and get the job done and out of an uncomfortable position
  • people not in my team use me for mentoring
  • senior managers across the agency appreciate how I resolve challenges in various projects
  • when I manage the team while the usual manager is on secondment the service levels and team sentiment stay on the already top level
  • my architecture change leadership is recognised as thoughtful and practical
  • a sincere trust relationship exists between my manager and myself

So, why the change?

An opportunity arose which a friend advised me off. Joining an organisation where I could bring in my previous skills in managing technology operations and also be part in leading a change process looked to me as a challenge that I love to take on. Early days it is, although I already met with the people I’m working with a few times and the feeling is we are on the same wave length.

  • a re-active environment needs to be boosted to be a leading one
  • service delivery methods and practices need to be transformed away from high demand for low value tasks to requests for business value services
  • changing the team spirit to being proud of Technology Operations

That’s not happening over night and is still first impressions. Expect from now on regular posts again!

Work – Life – Balance

Hi there,

thank you for staying with me for a while.

Some 3 years ago my previous employer restructured and I moved to work for a local government agency. After more than 20 years in a commercial environment this hit me like a smash in the tummy!

Many things changed and not in a way you might expect Рme included. People and Technology stayed fairly much the same. Good people, who work to make a difference, and some, who simply do their job. Technology, some leading edge and some that survived long after the vendor ceased support. Teams that push boundaries and teams that are grounded in the way things are done around here.

But the latter is a synonym of the real difference: processes and politics. I don’t mean the processes like how you apply for¬†leave, how a customer requests something, or how a supplier is paid. No, these processes are fairly universal and some a well defined and technology supported while others are much more adhoc or manual. The processes, I found inherently different, are related to and about change.

These processes make the difference in culture between the organisations I’ve worked with. To start with¬†there is an inherent organisational resistance to change. The way things are done here are proven over decades. Is there a legislation or regulation that requires a change? There is for sure one that is supporting what and how we do it.

Then we have frameworks on how we change things, why we would, could, or should not change. There are business unit interests, information technology aspects, strategic and annual plans, project and change management, and surely an overall business calendar of events to consider.

Clearly I had to learn navigating this new jungle that has nothing to do with what I still believe is a good thing:

 Trust people to do the right thing.

Because there surely is a regulation or framework, that I¬†haven’t considered and don’t yet know about. And that’s not all, managing upwards and sidewards and downwards is an even more essential part of this new brave world. I¬†needed friends and people who believe in what I¬†wanted to propose. Now I’m spending more time in talking with people about that¬†than actually doing it.

As a result I’m changing. My approach is changing. To achieve something needs time here. Like a seed that may become a tree.

And funnily enough the most positive aspect about the whole thing is I have a better work life balance. I’m much less worrying about tomorrow and things that need doing. Work needs a rest and ideas need to settle. Tomorrow is another day of sunshine or rain.

Today is a day for living. Be in the presence.

Enjoy your weekend, your evening, or whatever rocks your boat. Simply enjoy today. I¬†won’t get it back.

cheers

Frank

Making sense of information

warning! flood of electronic dataRecently big data and web design have come under a similar challenge:

What is the point of doing it?

Big Data is buckling under its own weight. So much information, so fast the change, so vast the variety – who can make sense of it and actually use it? An article by Richard C. Larson says “small data” is the new black and looks at the opportunity using a small but significant subset of the data that can actually be processed by humans. The idea of BI still is to transform data into actionable information. Small data sounds like a possible approach towards it.

The UX magazine challenges web designers by saying their trade is largely irrelevant. There are only so many ways to create a great contact or payment form and those exist. Why do it again?

Sergio Nouvel of Continuum¬†says: “2015 must be the year where we shift our focus to unsolved problems, especially ones we’ve been inadvertedly feeding all these years: the overload of information. The world needs designers to simplify, not to add up to the noise. Artificial intelligence is becoming the way of extracting sense and relevance of seas of information we have no human bandwidth to process. As professionals meant to be the experts in the creation of sense, this challenge needs us on board.”

The answer to the question is the same in both cases:

“Making sense of information by preparing and presenting it in readily consumable or actionable form.”

IT Architects from web design, information architecture, to business intelligence and enterprise architecture have a common goal: deliver value from the flood of electronic data.

What is on your top list for 2015?

Projects, Processes, and People

Photo by Marcelo Braga, licensed under Creative Commons 2.0.

Today, I experienced an interesting discussion and later this evening I read three related articles. That all came together more or less incidentally.

At work we are going through a restructure phase and one team had a coffee to discuss what it meant for them. In general, the people were concerned about the lack of detail, what the change meant for them personally and how “it” was going to work.

I don’t actually need to go into the details who the team was and what they currently do, it is immaterial. Not one team member was or is a change agent, not one was able to translate the strategic vision into something tangible.

Later I came across these 2 articles:

First, a blog post from 99U published in April 2014:

he Difference Between Projects and Processes:

Projects create change. Processes resist change.

Wow, so obvious and still – I forgot about it at the discussion. The people are used to work in a particular way, they are used that someone is responsible for this, then another person does that, and finally a third one¬†completes the task. Quite obviously the new structure is meant to break that. Its objective is to create, to force change. That’s not going to happen if processes stay the same. Hence implementing the new structure must be treated as a project.

And that’s where the second article comes in. This one published by the Smashing Magazine in July 2013:

People > Projects > Processes:

Having a process is good, but be careful that it does not overshadow the project itself or the people involved.

Processes are good to get the same quality every time. The ISO 9000 family is designed to do just that.

Projects are meant to create new processes or make existing ones better. And often they rely on processes themselves (PMI or Prince2 anyone?).

And what is the most important asset any organisation has? Its people. What is in the top 5 most important things organisations try to improve on? Employee Engagement. Why do projects fail? In 72% of all cases it is a communication breakdown.

Summary

Coming back to our discussion. Yes, I failed to appreciate the disruptive value of the restructure. But also, uncertainty about mapping the vision to the structure on middle management level means learning by making mistakes in creating new processes for the same business objectives must be acceptable. Disruption to existing support processes and delays in delivering functional projects may also occur. All under the vision of creating a better service in the near future.

You gotta break some eggs to make an omelette.