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?

I missed the point …

Papal election result

For years my dear wife is telling me some businesses (companies, government agencies, etc) are just covering their butts. They are not interested in the well being of their staff, customers or populace. In fact they have been taught not to make mistakes. The same time I have been arguing the opposite being true for the majority. There are plenty of examples where innovation, technical or medical break throughs etc take place; there are managers and business owners who have the best interest of their people at heart.

Having worked now in the private and public sector I have changed my mind. It is sad but true, many people work to uphold the rules and regulations. You can call it standards, operating procedures, or even culture “that’s how we do tings around here”. The focus is on compliance, policing and governance.

We are missing what we have set out to do, for example:

  • service to the community or our customer base
  • providing solutions and results for the customer
  • develop and build tools / systems that last and do the job well
  • make and distribute healthy food

The common cause is often cited as the growth syndrom:

  • making money
  • gaining power
  • becoming famous

BUT, is that really the case?

How many dads or mums simply want to provide for their children to have it better (education, house, job, ..)?
How many of us simply would like to go on with their business without thinking about mortgage, tax, bills, regulations, … ?

Albert Camus once said, freedom is the freedom of others.

It took me long time to understand. My freedom to do what I want is impacting on the freedom of my neighbour. And here our governance approach started. Instead of common sense prevailing we rely on some authority who tells us what we can or can’t do. And while they are at it, they make it a rule and apply it across the country so a single instance is solved for eternity.

What a load of rubbish!

In Germany it takes months for some decisions to be made because so many committees and sub committees have a say and need to review all the rules, regulations and bylaws. In New Zealand we are getting closer by the minute to the same situation. The recent “super city” is a great example. And I don’t mention the stalemate in the US where some egocentrics in both big parties blame each other rather than sit together at a table and don’t get up until the issue is solved. The election method of the pope is a better example how to do it right.

None of this means the people working in such organisations are bad, stupid or ignorant. No, most are intelligent, focused and trying their best. But they have been taught – like all of us – in an institution called school that rules and regulations and compliance is what drives this world and keeps the order. Challenging the status quo is hard and in school we have been taught not to do so.

Asking questions in school is a sign of ?

(a) intelligence (because you actually thought about it and didn’t come to the same conclusion)

(b) lack of intelligence (because you should know this [by now] and probably haven’t paid attention)

 

Ask your children. Then wonder why I wrote this post and comment below or use the answer and go back to the start.

Ask the “why” question and find out the reason behind a process, rule or regulation.

Don’t get me wrong, some are necessary, some are good, and some (most ?) are covering exceptions. Those are the ones slowing us down. Shouldn’t we go back to “Use good judgement?”

Planning – Doing – Done

agile PMAgile Project Management is one of the buzz words for the past few years. It’s based on the success in agile (software) development and lean management in general. But, does it actually work?

Agile is usually used as a synonym for scrum. You have 5 or so team members in a room or around a whiteboard and discuss / agree on the next deliverable. The standard is 2 or 3 weeks for such a sprint and the effort involved is measured in story points. Assuming you know the amount of story points in the project you can measure how fast you go and depending on the success rate (eg completing the stories in a sprint) the project manager can easily tell if the project is on time. ideally the reports tell the PM much more. He can see which area the shortfall is and mitigate the problem with a targeted approach. During a sprint the team gets together regularly for a short standup and inform each other on progress or hold ups. This allows early intervention. At the end of a sprint the team gets together including the customer and show the deliverable. This also allows early detection if the customer is satisfied and the team delivered on expectations.

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A leadership lesson in whey

reputationYou can’t build a reputation on what you are going to do” – Henry Ford

Only if you live behind a rock you don’t know about the Fonterra milk powder scandal. I don’t want to analyse or discuss the potential or actual impact on the industry or New Zealand’s reputation with its international partners. There are sufficient of these in the media.

No, I want to look at the action or non-action between the incident itself that caused the contamination and the information of the public.

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The Liability of Complex Communication

Guide4ClearYesterday I found a study published by the University of St. Gallen “Complex to Clear – Managing Clarity in Corporate Communication“.

The authors Martin J Eppler and Nicole Bischof argue convincingly a business case for clarity in all types of corporate communications. They address reports, emails, and even Twitter. That fascinating study can be downloaded from the University’s website and there’s also a presentation on Slideshare.

I was so fascinated by the clarity of the report – it follows to a great extent the recommended principles very closely – that I decided to blog about it straight away. It took me just half an hour to read through the 67 pages.

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Learn to Defy

learn to defyIn my leisure time I’m reading Fantasy and SciFi. Lately I read “Soldier Son” by Robin Hobb. The story evolves around the growing up and education of one son. He is to become a soldier, too – and officer to be precise. From young age he learns to obey and tries hard to do everything right for his father. One day his father decides to give his son to a former enemy for further training. That man makes the son promise to obey his orders. That is hard for the son but he follows as being told. When he is faced with a life threatening situation he finally breaks the promise and makes a decision (other than to follow and obey) on his own. Later the father explains to the mother why he did this. He was concerned his son would never stand on his own feet and would not become a leader.

His words were, “you need to learn to follow orders before you can command others because you must understand the consequences to those who believe in your leadership. “

This is a powerful parable. The question is, is it right?

Just a few days ago I came across a job description for an executive role. There was nothing special about it, it talked about strategy, planning, and operational management. And the interesting part came in the skills and competency section:

“Ensures decisions – own and organisational ones – are being actioned without hesitation.”

This sounded like military to me. And I asked myself, at what stage is the following of orders right and necessary and when is it wrong and dangerous?

This is a good reminder to look at the ethics and values of an organisation. Its adherence to rules, regulations, the law and its moral culture. Doing the right thing is very important to me. A decision that implies action which will undermine the ethics and values should be questioned. One of my mentors told me, the first question you ask when you join a team “Will we cheat?”. This tells you a lot about the team and provides you with a clear idea what to expect.

Your comments are as always welcome.