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 – me 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

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.

Succeeding on Purpose

I didn’t go to TechEd in Auckland last week, but a friend of mine did. He pointed me to the recording of one of the keynotes, saying if you watch one, make it this one.

Succeeding on Purpose

Succeeding on Purpose

It’s a 1 hour recording and if you have the time, it is well spend. If not, here’s my 5 minute summary:

In this talk James A. Whitaker tells his personal 7 traits that everybody can use to succeed in life. The talk is limited to outline 4 of those and James makes sure he advertises his book about it.

(1) Ambition

This is the only trait that is not optional. Having an aspirational goal is a must. Set your goals higher. Even if you miss it you still end up higher than the mediocre goal you were sure to achieve.

(2) Specialisation

Specialising on something gives you an identity. It is an opportunity to master the topic. Although, make sure you choose something that matters. Be passionate about it. Then comes the important part: Make an elevator pitch in 2 forms, one to tell others “that’s what I do” and the other for yourself, “that’s why I do it”. And don’t forget – specialisation does only work for a limited time. You may need to change 2 or 3 times along the way.

(3) Story telling

James tells us 3 stories that matter. The first is about your role and your speciality (see above), the second is about your project and why it matters (this tells other what you do is interesting), and the third talks about you and what makes you special. The latter is probably the hardest part for me, there are plenty of folks who do similar stuff – how do I compare?

(4) Learning

“We are who we learn from” – The sentence didn’t first make too much sense to me. However, when James continues talking about mentors, yes many mentors, it starts to resonate. Having access to an expert in the field makes learning so much more fun. The trick is to find the right one for you.

(5) Mimic / Imitation

He is an advocate of imitating the chosen expert in that field. The advantage, you learn more – you learn the little things, the things people do unconsciously. Although beware, don’t become a carbon copy. Mimic multiple mentors and become the blend that is you.

(6) Innovation’s long nose >>> Derivation

Re-invent the wheel is the credo! But make it better so that it matters. He talks about clairvoyance and creativity in this context. Clairvoyance is about the knowledge you have about your industry and your ability to predict what’s happening next. This goes back to specialisation. Don’t specialise in ‘dead’ things, specialise in things that are going to matter. Some tips about a creativity are added, where he briefly talks about rituals (or habits) that stimulate creativity, distractions that gives your brain a rest, and being centered – a place or places where you feel comfortable and have the greatest ideas.

(7) Leadership

He left that hanging. I have to read the book!

The Art of Successful Collaboration

Create to CollaborateI have been a fan of collaboration for many years at work. “Many hands make light work”. I hardly questioned that collaboration can actually be a hindrance. Sure, I am – like many – aware if one doesn’t pull his own weight the whole team suffers. Although, I didn’t click what prevents this.

Today I came across this article on 99U by Ron Friedman. Using the example of good and bad marriages as well as John Lennon and Paul McCartney of The Beatles he shows that collaboration comes with an opportunity cost. And if that isn’t paid, collaboration pulls everybody down.

I don’t intend to repeat his examples and arguments, please read the above article for it. No, I want to highlight what to do to make collaboration successful (which Ron does towards the end of the article)

The best (visual) design tends to happens late at night.

Jasper Stephenson, a 10 week intern at Adaptive Path said this in his parting blog post.

If I think back to much of my favorite work, the execution part has come from trance-like zen states where I work until well after midnight — not by necessity, but by nature of having a constant flow of ideas that demand to be realized. There’s much to be said for having a team all present in the same space at the same time and the cohesion of ideas that comes from that, but it’s hard to enter a trance of exploration and creation in such an active office.

And this is pretty much what Ron said about The Beatles. The ideas, the rough diamonds, the blink “let’s do this” doesn’t come from the group huddle. It comes from the inspiration at a “non-busy” spot. Like a shower, mowing the lawn, or watching the waves roll in. Then the first bit of hard work starts, working on the very inspiration so I can explain it to my friends.

The Spark

A blank canvas is not stimulating, having 4 or 6 people staring at a blank whiteboard doesn’t help either. A spark is necessary. Much is said about Brainstorming as an idea generating stimulus. Not so. Brainstorming works when you have a facilitator and a topic. Even better, if your participants know the brainstorming session is tomorrow and they have individually time to think about it even if only unconsciously. Ron Friedman demands “homework is necessary”: [The Beatles] collaborated after they [individually] had gotten a piece as far as they could, and were ready for suggestions.

Collaboration

When you meet to discuss the merits and the foolishness of your idea look at your team. Do they tend to agree? Do they have the same sort of thinking? Do they excel at the same disciplines? Let’s face it, while we like people who agree with our ideas – it makes us feel good!, we learn more if people have different view points, different strengths, and can say so without being blunt but in a supportive manner.

Collaborations are most effective when teammates complement rather than replicate one another’s abilities. 

Summing it up

Collaboration works best when

  • there is a rough idea that is the result of hard work – alone
  • there is a team that complements each other
  • there is a team that prepares for collaboration
  • there is a willingness to critique consciously
  • there is a willingness to accept such critique
  • there is a recognition the final outcome is a team effort