A Business Technology Place

Special Sauce

Two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions, on a sesame seed bun. I remember that McDonald’s commercial like it was yesterday. Now, decades later, I’m still fascinated with ‘special sauce’, just not the sauce on a Big Mac. The topic is universal. What makes companies and groups successful?special-sauce

This article from Harvard Business Review about corporate survival examines the increased failure rate of companies that start today versus those that started before 1980. Their research found that, “firms listed after 2000 spent more than twice as much as earlier firms (in percentage terms) on organizational capital and half as much on physical assets…..But that advantage is a double-edged sword, they add: The good news is the newer firms are more nimble. The bad news for these firms is that their days are numbered, unless they continually innovate.”

Innovation encompasses special sauce. Some companies find it by creating a new paradigm like Cirque de Soleil. They created a new mold for a circus by removing animals and focusing on adults with a more sophisticated form of entertainment. Chic-fil-a uses customer experience and community involvement for their special sauce to make a chicken sandwich more than just lunch. Innovation isn’t limited to technology. The special sauces from Cirque de Soleil and Chic-fil-a have staying power. While competitors can see it, they haven’t really been able to imitate it. I found the Big Mac special sauce recipe online.

Keep searching for your special sauce.

Onward and Upward!

IT Manager Leader Standard Work

In 2015, I started on a lean production system journey. My aim is to improve my personal level of leadership by learning to focus on reducing waste activities and increasing customer value-add activities.  One concept in lean philosophy is leader standard work. It’s not easy to set a baseline for metrics and desirable activities without first having a play card for leaders to follow. Without a play card, the actions of a leader will be random and more subject to putting out the fires that pop-up each day.

 

I documented my first draft of leader standard work by first writing down all of the recurring activities that I already do. Then I examined each activity to see how they aligned to lean principles and noted what visual controls I have to measure and control each activity. If my activity didn’t align to a lean principle then I eliminated it.

 

Activity Lean Alignment/Leadership Influence Visual Controls
Daily
Review service metrics for open tickets Check SLA adherence/Conformance to schedule
Provide assistance with at-risk tickets.Stop and fix the problem, Standardized tasks
Open ticket report by age
Ticket system dashboard
Weekly
Change log review Make sure production changes are reviewed for communication, interdependencies, and quality testing.
Audits / Compliance
Change log database
Team Lead meeting Communicate company and team results.
Discuss escalations and commitments.
Develop countermeasures
Discuss performance and adherence to standard work (Gemba walk chosen project board in TFS)
Develop exceptional people and teams
Change log

Portfolio dashboard
Software development system board

1:1 meeting with direct reports Coaching (Advanced problem solving, Development)
Review standard work (weekly team standups, communication to stakeholders)
Ensure high productivity and engagementIdeas for improvement
Grow leaders who understand the work
Software development system board
Portfolio dashboard
Open Tickets
Gemba Walk – Go see for yourself Understand the work
Coach and connect
Demonstrate commitment to lean system
Software development system board
Monthly
Portfolio review Prioritize WIP and near-term backlog
Level out the workload
Create continuous process flow and bring problems to the surface
Portfolio dashboard
Status Report Leader check understanding of work
Review progress towards meeting goals (Actual vs Plan)
Develop countermeasures
Become a learning organization through reflection
Order source metrics
Financial metrics
Service level metrics
Portfolio dashboard
Capex/Billable Hours Financial account reclassification for capital work or billable  to customer Billable hours report
Steering Committee Regulate intake of new work (ROI, Current WIP, Capacity)
Make decisions by consensus
Group presentation and Discussion
Semi-Annual/Annual
Mid-year check-in/Annual review with direct reports Check progress toward meeting goals with each employee
Adjust goals if necessary
Career development discussion
Develop exceptional people and teams
Annual plan
Annuals goals
Annual Policy and Standard Work Review Review and update all policies and leader standard work documentation
Standardized tasks are the foundation for continuous improvement and employee empowerment
Policy documents

Leader standard work is a precursor to managing for continuous improvement and culture change. It is the basis for a job description. But it’s way better than that because it focuses on a systematic and repeatable approach to collaboration, employee development, problem solving, and understanding the business.

After creating the list I set my calendar with recurring entries corresponding to the tasks (for those I didn’t already have set). It’s a start and continuation of the lean journey.

Onward and upward!

 

What your infrastructure guy wants you to know

Looking for exceptional project leaders.

I have a special place in my heart for project managers. I was once a project manager and yet I still am a project manager. I expect I’ll always need to be a project manager. The skills of a PM are needed outside of the business environment. I use them in everyday life to plan, organize, and execute projects at home.

I previously wrote about the one the biggest challenges of a project manager. They sometimes struggle to find respect in a business setting and have to learn how to earn respect through business acumen and relational skills. When a PM gets the respect of the team they are leading then the project operates with efficiency and smoothness.

But not all projects in the portfolio have a PM. There are more projects than what the Project Management Office has capacity to fill. I’ve noticed projects without a project manager will most likely not get done or will struggle to make progress. That’s obvious right? Yes. It’s easy to reach that conclusion and it’s very logical. I call it Organizational Entropy.

The silent voice in the room.ServerRack

Without someone guiding and leading the team members on project tasks and timelines they are drawn by other competing tasks in the organization and will respond to the loudest voice.

The infrastructure and network team usually get the projects without a PM. I’ve noticed this in every professional position that I’ve served. It’s the software development projects that typically get a PM while the hardware projects are left to the engineers to manage.

Those poor network engineers. They are like the road crews that need to repair, widen, and repave roads. They have to work on weekends and at night when the traffic is the lowest. But they often don’t get someone to help them plan and execute.

This creates a focus problem. The engineers are pulled into changes that the software teams need. They get pulled into break-fix help desk tickets. Then it’s hard to focus and the loudest voice calling them gets the attention. It’s no wonder that many of their own projects fall behind or don’t get done.

What’s the best answer for this? I haven’t been able to answer it yet. Perhaps giving some volume to that silent voice is the first step.

Let me know if you’ve found the answer.

Onward and upward!

Photo Credit: Gene Selkov via creative commons.

IT Annual Planning

These customers want the basics.

Wired Magazine published an entertaining read about the preferences of public transit riders.  The results showed that it wasn’t the technology services like WiFi and charging stations that topped the list of what riders wanted; it was the basics like reliability and predictability of the service. We so often hear the phrase “get back to basics” and this study supports that thought. But the nature of progress and business has a gravitational pull to do more than the basics. We want to add more features and more services. We want to be the most competitive solution provider with more to offer. We provide more service to justify higher pricing. I feel this pull for bigger, better, faster as both a consumer and business professional offering a service.

But really.  

Is all this really important to customers?

Back to basics for business planning.

Last year I started using the A3 problem solving approach for annual planning. The output of the A3 process is a single sheet of paper. That’s important to me because it forces my team and I to narrow down our communication to what’s truly important and necessary to communicate with our audience. The Information Technology group is not immune to making problem solutions more complex than they need to be. An approach like the A3 technique creates a framework to get us to think about the basics of problem solving and communicating in a succinct manner that adds value.

Here is the template I have used thus far. The process involves documenting prior year results (current state), current year goals, rationale for the goals, action plans to achieve the goals, and follow-up items. I put the initial plan in an A3 format for discussion with managers and business department heads (suitable to print). Then I translate the plan to a single power point slide for when presentation and projection to a larger audience (suitable to project).

IT Annual Plan A3 IT Annual Plan

 

Follow it!

I keep a printed copy of the annual plan on my desk and reference it each week. I use it in discussions with my management team and as part of the performance management process with employees. Monthly I will make updates to the plan with progress on the activities timeline or updates to unanswered questions.

Continuous Improvement in business planning.

In addition to the annual plan, I’m also starting to think about converting the long range plan to an A3 process as well as my monthly status report. I don’t claim to have achieved an optimal approach to this process. But what is happening is that I’m thinking through the basics of the lean problem solving techniques and how to communicate them with my audience. That’s the beauty of the A3 approach for planning. It creates a conversation with the audience. More than just sending a large report loaded with information that people probably won’t read, this approach gets the conversation to something manageable.

 

Onward and Upward!

 

The view from here. Amazing things I see in IT.

15753367794_7a21f5af6a_zWhen I chose to pursue a career in information technology it wasn’t because I knew what the view would look like from the inside. I was, and still am, enamored with creating and building things. I’ve learned over time that the connection I feel with a new solution is just a piece of the IT view from the inside. The ability to create and build things turns into experiences and stories of connecting people with systems and solutions. That means the view is filled with challenges, successes, and failures. But the complete view includes the user and the solution. In other words the view is bigger than me. The view is bigger than the creation. The view is a complete environment in which me, the creation, and user are all participants.

Here are a few of my favorites views from inside IT:

  1. IT professionals making systems made by different manufacturers talk to each other in a meaningful way.

I stress “meaningful way” because during a translation activity it’s usually fairly simple to map data fields between two systems. The more difficult part is getting the two disparate systems to interpret the same data equally. That involves business logic and rules which are set by the two users.

Years ago I participated in building the first bank site extension that allowed a checking account holder to connect through online banking to a site that allowed them order checks.  The check ordering site was completely different than online banking. Behind the scenes we built a bridge of information about the account holder and their checking account plan. This governed what check catalog they viewed, how much the checks cost, and imprint that was placed on the checks. When it all worked it was like view with different landscapes meeting together to form a new transition in the scenery.

  1. IT professionals mapping a manual workflow to an electronic workflow so that it runs faster and more reliably.

In recent weeks some of my team members automated the ability to send coupon redemption data electronically to NCH. This ability removes days of manual processing of redemption data and coupon codes. Another example was creating the ability send a purchase order to vendor, receive their acknowledgement and shipping notification, and then send the corresponding billing electronically to the customer. Before this happened each step was done by hand via email, match-up process, and mailing.

What’s the view look like when things like this happen? I see savings in labor dollars and a reduction in time to complete a task. That means competitive services in the marketplace and meaningful solutions to customers. It’s like a body of water that’s blue and a reflection of the creation around it.

  1. IT professionals developing a technology based solution but learning more about the underlying business process than when they started.

To me, it’s magical when an IT programmer converses with a finance manager about the rules of a lock box transfer to the bank, accounts receivable balances, and cash flow. It’s amazing when an IT database administrator discusses sales entered, shipped sales, and billed sales with a Sales manager to help determine the right filters and views to show on reports. The point is that being in IT is more than programming 1s and 0s on a screen. It’s about understanding the subject matter of the business. That means learning and connecting with business owners to deliver solutions they will use. .

I still love what I do. I love the views it gives me of work and life. What about you? What do you see in your view?

 

Onward and upward!

 

Photo Credit. https://flic.kr/p/q158py – By Douglas Scortegagna via Creative Commons.