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!

Pick your team.

I have fond memories from my youth when I was with a group of friends and we picked teams for a game. The games varied; baseball, kickball, capture the flag, football, or war. But the act of picking teams usually followed the same process. Two captains were selected and then each captain would take turns picking team members from the rest of the group. The order of selection was based on skills and the kid the captain thought provided the best chance to win. Sometimes it was based on friendships and alliances made outside the field of play. Then we played.the-sandlot-crew

When I select members for a technology department today, I have a different perspective. I like to look for team members that can contribute beyond a specific technical skill set. A base technical skill is required, but it is not enough to be on the team I would pick. Daniel Pink writes in his book A Whole New Mind that technical skills are increasingly being replaced by someone who can do it cheaper (think Asia) or a computer that can do it faster. Pink argues knowledge workers who can contribute beyond direct technical output will find more options for employment and a higher likelihood of career fulfilment. These workers can detect patterns, see opportunities, and combine results into new inventions and stories to connect with customers and coworkers.

This past week my wife interviewed two candidates for a position on her team. She asked me for advice on how to approach the process and make a distinction between the two candidates. I recommended looking for the candidate who showed interest in the mission of her workplace. Did they ask questions about the business, the workflows used by the team, the current challenges, etc.? This employee would become more fully engaged in looking at the big picture and trying to help find solutions and make improvements.

In another conversation this week, I was asked about replacing a member on our technology steering committee. The basis for the question was the new prospective member was younger and more comfortable with technology solutions. I reminded my colleague the primary purpose of the committee was to discuss the direction and impact of technology solutions on the business more than any specific technology used. The skill set I want on the committee requires more institutional knowledge of the business than it does technical knowledge.

Picking teams today is different than when I was a kid. I want team members who are engaged enough to ask clarifying questions, to ask why, and to suggest areas of improvement. I want team members to make an intentional effort to understand the whole solution and not just the tasks assigned to them. When we play the game, these are the skills that will help us win. You in?

Onward and upward!

My Labor Day Reflection

Labor Day is a tribute to the contributions American workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country. The US Congress designated the first Monday in September as a holiday in June of 1894. On this Labor Day, after completing a do-it-yourself home fix-up project, I reflected on my day-off from work.LaborDay

A look behind me.

I appreciate past relationships with co-workers and managers because the experiences with them shaped and molded my professional career. When I think about my past teams, I am reminded about interactions, coachable moments, managerial decisions, and putting laborers in the right job to contribute to team results.

I appreciate my first manager who hired me after college graduation. He gave me a chance. He extended trust and let me establish a work routine. I appreciate the manager that removed me from an assignment when I was failing and repositioned me to an assignment where I could both succeed and mature. I appreciate the co-worker that approached work with zeal and creativity. Her example opened my mind to see new possibilities for work assignments and inspired me to reach higher.

A look ahead of me.

Can I help others achieve more by using my experience as a guide? Can I improve team output by examining job assignments and organizational layouts to make sure that laborers are in the proper assignments and working on the most important tasks? Am I building team unity?

To contribute to my portion of the team load I need to make sure I’m still learning and continuously improving through self-inspection. One of the reasons I write each week is to reflect on events and ideas that shape my life journey. I believe that my achievement come as the result of the collective effort of those on my team. I must carry my weight on the team by being prepared.

So happy Labor Day to you and me. The fruits of our labor are sweet tasting. But the journey of our labor is not yet complete.

Onward and upward!

Photo Credit: LPHR Group via Creative Commons

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.

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.