A Business Technology Place

Work with a rhythm

So many things provide rhythm to life.

  • Music
  • Dance
  • The seasons
  • Waking strides
  • Heartbeats
  • Speech
  • Faith

What rhythm means to me.

Before I ever thought about my daily routines mapping to a rhythm, I was following patterns. Looking back, I remember specific practices I used during high school to complete assignments and study for tests. I used time blocks in college to stay organized with activities and school. Today, I have routines for work, exercise, money management, and a host of other life spaces. These elements provide rhythm to my life.

I don’t see standard disciplines as some robotic repetition. To me, life rhythm is a recurring set of actions that are completed for a purpose. Exercising at set intervals is meant to keep the body healthy. Arriving at work before the official start of business is meant to allow time for uninterrupted planning and thought. Avoiding or minimizing personal debt is done to allow more freedom in spending choices later.

A few of my favorite examples.

Todd Henry, author of The Accidental Creative, says it this way, “There is a way, however, to ensure that you’re always poised to experience creative insights when you need them. You must establish practices that support your creative process and give you the focus, energy and time you need when an opportunity arises“. Establishing rhythmic practices in your routines is a how he supports creative processes in his life.

The Apostle Paul found rhythm in God and his faith. In a speech in Athens his words are recorded in Acts 17 as, “For in him we live and move and have our being.

One of the Principles of Lean and the Toyota Production System is, “Standardized tasks are the foundation for continuous improvement and employee empowerment.” The point of standardized tasks is not to become inflexible, but to find and expose pieces of work that can be improved.

Find a rhythm but understand the why.

Creating and setting a rhythm in life is important for achieving success on our daily ‘to-do’ lists. But the benefits of setting a rhythm are way better than accomplishing a few to-dos. If we use our mission statement, personal or business, as a basis for our rhythms then we are building a foundation s for working on what is most important while at the same time creating opportunity for continuous improvement.  Now that’s a song worth dancing to.

Onward and upward!

Photo Credit: Ineke Hulzing via Flickr Creative Commons

Take this job and love it

Johnny Paycheck didn’t talk to me

I’m blessed to say I’ve never been in a job I hated.  I’ve been challenged and grown professionally in each position I’ve held because I positioned myself in a career field I enjoy. But I’ve also developed a few routines over the years to enhance my work experience.

  1.    Engage with people

I’ve learned cube hermits rarely enjoy their job or surroundings. I believe collaboration is more successful when I can see and/or hear my customers and team partners. So I increase my engagement with work by getting away from email and visiting others in-person or calling them on the phone.

  1. Go to the Gemba

The phrase gemba is a Japanese term meaning the place where value is created. Before I was introduced to the word in Lean teachings, I discovered the power of the concept. When I was a product manager, I noticed I was spending as much or more time with the business unit owners as my peer group. I moved my desk inside their business unit and not within the IT area. This move increased my understanding of the business and made collaboration with my customers easier.

  1. Take pride in your work

A wise man told me in college that every piece of work I turn in has my signature and approval. It left a mark on me. My work output reflects how much I care about the customer, my company, and my work. My work is my signature, so do it right and take pride in it.

  1. Seek to align with other departments

Aligning with other departments means actively listening to understand their needs and finding solutions that are mutually beneficial. It means aligning to common goals in the business and not thinking my goals trump others. Isolationism within the company will ultimately leads to frustration, misunderstandings, and inefficiencies.  

That’s my recipe for loving your job. What’s yours?

Onward and upward!

Photo credit: Britt Selvitelle via creative commons

IBM reverses course on work-from-home

We can improve business results with this change!

IBM recently announced the end of work-from-home for the Marketing department as it moves towards regional offices for co-locating the Big Blue workforce. They aren’t the first to do this. Yahoo reversed course in 2013 by banning work-from-home and Best Buy followed their lead. Could this be another business cycle forming? Companies have been centralizing and decentralizing organizational layout for years as they switch between shared service cost-savings and greater focus on customer needs. Now it appears working-from-home, telecommuting, and flexible work arrangements may start going through similar cycles.

The debatable points.

Working-from-home has many characteristics and touch-points to create debate:

  • Team collaboration vs private think-time
  • Consistent schedules vs flexible schedules
  • Meetings together vs conference calls
  • Productivity of the group vs productivity of the individual
  • Commercial office cost vs home office cost
  • Relationships and culture
  • Employee retention
  • Commute time

The irresistible force to change something.

It’s easy to see how business leaders are drawn towards this policy as a means to improve efficiency and productivity of their workforce. The debatable items can all impact workforce productivity. But change is initially disruptive and must be executed properly to yield the desired results.

Obviously there is no single right answer. Organizations must weigh options and make decisions based on their business environment, their workforce, and their culture. Workers have preferences based on their life-stage, distance from the office, position in the organization, and personality.

Regardless of personal preferences, it does not change the mission of the organization or the commitment required of the workforce to produce great work. Ultimately, managers make a decision and move forward with it to create the culture and environment they want to achieve the mission of the organization. The work-from-home policy attracts or repels would-be workers. But the workforce needs to understand the interests of the company must survive to provide services customers will buy and to provide long-lasting security for employees.

Onward and upward!

photo credit: Debra Roby via creative commons.

Work for something bigger

“Work for a cause, not for applause. Live life to express, not to impress. Don’t strive to make your presence noticed just make your absence felt.” – Unknown

I pinned these words on my board at work because they describe a work ethic I see in some people. I admire colleagues that create work as an extension of themselves rather than an object that is simply sold for purchase. These are workers who approach their craft thinking about relationships, processes, and flow. They understand and realize they are a single player in a team sport. They recognize the value that all team members bring to the effort and they don’t value their own work higher than what others contribute.

Technical skills such as programming and configuration are important. But technical skills are replaceable. There is always another programmer for-hire to write code. But real value is added when we create work with the customer in-mind more than our individual gain. Real value is added when we step out of our own box to help others be successful because we genuinely want to see them succeed.  This is what it means to live for a cause and to express an ideal bigger than ourselves.
Onward and upward!

Is the rabbit big enough to chase?

Stay the course.

Six weeks into the New Year is when many people lose their motivation to follow their New Year resolutions. It’s difficult to have the discipline required to change behavior.  It’s also around this time when we are tempted in our businesses to shelve the new annual plan. It’s not intentional. We get busy with the day-to-day steps to run the business and solve immediate problems. Years ago I decided I couldn’t let this happen. I make the IT annual plan in a portable format. After reflecting on using this approach the last few years, I’m thinking about how to introduce technical margin in the plan next year.

Rabbits, squirrels, and other tempting things.

Throughout the course of a year distractions tempt us to wander from our plan. Some of the new things we see are good and worth making adjustments to achieve. But most distractions are industry fads, marketing mind tricks, or situations of minor inconveniences we make into urgent matters. I call them office squirrels or rabbits.

Every week my voicemail and email have unsolicited messages about products and services to make my life easier. Every week someone suggests a new project to solve an opportunity they see in their work area. Every week unplanned requests enter the organization from a variety of sources including customers, auditors, and executives.

“Is the rabbit big enough to chase?”

The question is so easy to ask but difficult to answer. The rabbit begs us to chase it. It lures us with the temptations of rewards and the fear of not catching it. The annual plan consists of activities to support long range goals, the organizational mission, and the core values. The rabbits may support organizational improvements too. But something I’ve learned is to accomplish the plan of great things we often have to learn to say no to some good things.

“Is the rabbit big enough to chase?”

The rabbit hole.

I’m not advocating sticking to the approved plan without the ability to make tactical course corrections or even the ability to alter goals. Executing and closing projects on the plan is hard enough without the distractions of office rabbits. We make calculated decisions through the course of the year. Changing course on a whim, or because an influential requestor swayed opinions, is expensive to the productivity of the organization. Changing course quickly promotes short-term thinking and often results in mistakes. How many times has a ‘must-have’ project for a customer never used or cancelled halfway through implementation? That’s when the rabbit disappears down the hole and we look up to discover we’ve wandered from the path and deeper into uncharted woods.

I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down.

I’m passionate about following the plan, or going on the hunt every week. But I make mistakes and follow rabbits that run down holes. So I’m trying to grow wiser through experience. I want to make decisions with the long term success of the organization in mind, keep the annual plan readily available to maintain focus and alignment, and make decisions through consensus to support the mission and core values.  

In the book of Nehemiah in the Bible, Nehemiah was tempted by adversaries to stop rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem. He stuck to his plan saying “I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down. Why should the work stop, while I leave it and go down to you?” He was intentional and focused on his plan. He considered the cost of leaving the work for what his adversaries promised. By doing so, he avoided the rabbit and completed his goal. I like it. Let’s stay focused.

Onward and upward!

Photo Source: Ballad of the Lost Hare – Public domain book.