A Business Technology Place

The Fall of the House of Jargon

Inspired by Poe, ghoulish tales, and corporate jargon.

I arrived at the House of Jargon on a windy day, overcast, with a steady drizzle of rain. The letter from Roderick Jargon arrived late because he didn’t follow best practices and the large attachment exceeded the size of my mailbox. His words said he had fallen ill trying to synergize members of his house and needed assistance to flesh-out ideas and restore his health. Visible on the outside of the house, was a large crack extending downward to its foundation.

I was greeted by Madeline, Jargon’s chief of staff. Her eyes showed she was weary from restless nights. In a trance-like state she murmured, “We’ve been expecting you. We have not been able to herd the cats and Mr. Jargon has fallen ill.” As I entered the foyer, I was awestruck by the size of the house. It was small enough to hide the reasons for underperforming expectations but large enough to hide an elephant in the room. I knew immediately, my visit would test my senses and resolve. The air was stale and smelled of mold, rot, and decay.

Madeline escorted me to the studio, where Mr. Jargon sat listless and pale in his chair. “Your painting collection is impressive”, I said as I tried to lighten the mood. “Yes, I have searched the world and found pieces to promote increasing productivity and doing more with less”, he replied. The lights suddenly went out as the rain outside intensified. Madeline lit some candles so we could continue our conversation. Our shadows, now present on the walls and floors, intensified the feelings of doom and despair.

Mr. Jargon started singing a song. It told the tale of a business filled with low hanging fruit the workers couldn’t pick because they couldn’t find ways to collaborate and harmonize with each other. Ultimately, the business failed to live the mission because the workers forgot their purpose. “I wrote that song about my business”, he said. “I believe my fate and legacy is connected to this house. Can you help me?”

A few days later, Mr. Jargon informed me Madeline resigned her job and would leave the house. He insists I help him define an exit strategy for her because she was the nucleus of the team. During Madeline’s last two weeks the mood in the house grew more somber. Any glimmer of hope, excitement, and purpose were lost. Mr. Jargon’s condition continued to worsen and even I felt agitated over trivial things.  The mood of despair dampened my spirit.

During the fifth week, a large storm moved into the area. Once again, power was lost at the house and we moved about mostly in the dark. Mr. Jargon and I, retreated to his bedroom hoping to find rest and relief from fear of the storm. As we talked, I looked out his window and noticed a faint glow on the lake surrounding lake. But yet, there was no light from the house and the heavens provided no help to see. The house appeared to be alive, casting its own light to those who dwelled within it. Mr. Jargon soon became more delusional and started to recount stories of past successes. He was living in the past while grasping for tomorrow.

Hoping to calm Mr. Jargon I began to read a book about a knight who sought shelter during a ferocious storm. A small house caught the eye of the knight, but there is a dragon guarding the entrance. As the knight prepares for battle, he notices a shield hanging on the wall with the inscription:

“Whoever enters this house, accretive growth is before you;

Slay the dragon, and the shield is yours to help increase productivity against the forces of complacency.”

The knight, empowered by the words and vision, slays the dragon and reaches for the shield. But the shield falls to the ground with a resounding clang.

Suddenly a loud shriek breaks our concentration from the book. As if from within the DNA of the house, the shriek reverberates off the walls and furniture. Mr. Jargon becomes increasingly agitated murmuring words about organic growth and not enough resources to win the battle. He shouts “I should have listened to Madeline, when she told me to move the goalposts to higher objectives so we could leverage our core strengths!”

A huge gust of wind pushed the windows open and extinguished our candles. In a faint light from the moon above the house, Mr. Jargon and I noticed Madeline is standing in front of the open bedroom door. She runs to Mr. Jargon and releases a scolding monologue with accusations about missing alignment, collaboration, and buy-in from key stakeholders.

I knew my time had come to leave. Frightened by the distrust and accusations, I felt like I would soon be thrown under the bus like so many others in the House of Jargon. I ran for the door, leaving my belongings. Passing through the outer courtyard, I continued to run not wanting to look back.  As if on cue, the moon broke free from the clouds and cast a light upon the surrounding wilderness. I stopped to look back upon the house. The crack in the exterior I had noticed when I arrived widened, and soon split the house in two. The house began to sink as if under the heavy weight of non-value added activities. It vanished into the ground and my view was consumed by howling winds and blinding rain, as I lost sight to the House of Jargon.

 

photo credit: Greg Clarke 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.

 

A manager’s guide to the annual plan

Creating the annual plan is like solving a puzzle.

Participating in the annual plan has always been a challenge to me to a certain extent for two reasons:

  1. In the past, I viewed the activity as more forecasting than planning. The plan was a list of goals and objectives that we hoped to achieve but we never knew what changes in the business might alter the plan. Inevitably something like customer mergers, acquisitions, unplanned results, or even customer defections would alter our plan. For me it was puzzle challenge number 1.
  2. The annual plan received focused attention before starting the year and then became a dead-document.  In this sense I’m referring more to the goals and objectives. I worked many years where we didn’t relook at the goals and objectives again until it was time to write the annual performance reviews. It was always a mystery to me why we didn’t go back and look those plans. This was puzzle challenge number 2.

Working the puzzle.

The good news for me is that I like working puzzles. I’ve always enjoyed the journey of solving puzzles even more than the end result. As with most cases in business processes and management there isn’t one best way to create an annual plan. There are many variables such as culture and industry that will influence the approach. As my responsibilities have grown over time I’ve been able to influence the annual planning process more with my thoughts and learnings.PlanDoCheckAct

I like the A3 problem solving method that is used by lean practitioners. The method looks for root causes with an attempt to prevent recurrence. It addresses the dead-document issue by including steps for checking and following-up on the solution. The approach is also attempts to simplify the whole process by focusing on what is most important. Get the plan on a single page and then execute it.

Creating the annual plan.

For the 2016 year I used past learnings and tried an approach to put the annual plan in A3 format (source:Lean.org).

Step 1 – Get input from other department heads to focus on alignment.

Nothing spells dysfunction like an IT department out-of-synch with other business departments. I’ve always said that IT is a service organization. It exists to enable the other business functions to be successful. Asking for input on business objectives from marketing, operations, customer service, sales, and finance should be a natural first step to create the IT plan, roadmap, and budget.

Step 2 – Learn, repeat, and stretch.

The A3 approach for planning focuses on a structure approach to thinking about the plan. It allows us to state what was learned, repeat what works and to stretch to set new baselines.

Plan Template

Step 1 – Targets/Goals for the coming year (where are we going?)

Step 2 – Results from last year (where we came from , hits and misses )

Step 3 – Reasoning for new plan and targets (what we learned)

Step 4 – Action plans for the coming year (how to get there)

Step 5 – Unresolved issues/questions (items that need more clarification and research)
Big plans are complicated to write and can leave the audience overwhelmed. The A3 approach keeps the message concise and focused on the most important things. When I wrote the A3 based plan it required that I make decisions about what to purposefully include. That doesn’t mean that our group doesn’t have other planned actions, but those actions should support the larger initiatives. The plan is intended to give business partners a chance to see a consolidated statement of how the IT group intends to contribute to the overall business objectives.Step 3 – Get the story on one page.

Step 4 – Review the plan with other department heads to check and confirm understanding of alignment.

The plan ends right back where it started. The best way to check understanding is to confirm the plan with the other department heads. It’s a quality check. But it’s also a touch-point for IT-business alignment and the start of the momentum to execute the plan activities.

Onward and upward!

Photo Credit: Jurgen Appelo

 

The truth about IT managers.

Part 2 of 3 – The Truth is…. I’ll share some truths about developers, managers, and processes in IT.

Just what is an IT Manager?

The management career path in the Information Technology field is often a major “fork in the road” or decision point. Individuals weigh options between maintaining their technical skills and job assignments with responsibility for managing people. In IT, it’s not uncommon to find workers that have zero-interest in management. The technology is what attracted them to IT and they prefer to interface with technology more than people. For those workers that choose the other side of the fork in the road there is an important lesson to be learned; Managing IT requires more than managing technology and technology workers.

We need to redefine what we expect of IT Managers.

A large component of IT management is comprised of understanding technology and managing the people that implement technology. But the most successful IT managers are those that align with and create partnerships with other business units in the organization. Managers from marketing, finance, operations, customer service, and other areas of the business want true partnership from their IT management counterparts. IT managers that just provide a technology service, follow IT rules and processes, and enforce standards are missing the mark. When that happens, IT becomes an island in the organization. Other business units start to look for ways around IT (often called Shadow IT). Business partnership is the place where IT managers connect the technology with solutions that the technology provides. The technology exists to connect people-to-people and businesses-to-customers.

Some truths about IT Managers.

Getting up every morning to work with technology is a good place to be. Opportunities abound to be the hero. But with every opportunity is the risk of being the goat as well. IT managers can be viewed as value-add or expensive overhead. These boundaries and risks provide the framework for a few truths that I’ve learned:it management

  • IT managers wonder is it possible to please everyone. Business leaders want IT managers to have their IT organizations accomplish more, use more nimble processes, and cost less money. At the same time security and compliance officers want more controlled changes, more thorough processes, and added costs for additional security.
  • IT managers are caught somewhere between run-the-business and grow-the-business. Traditionally business leaders wanted IT to keep information flowing through the organization so that business orders are processed, produced, and billed. But business environments change and products mature. When customers start looking for new products and services, business leaders wants IT to help grow the business as well. On the income statement, IT is a cost center. The IT manager must prove the value-add of how they help grow-the-business by mapping their actions to ROI and profit.
  • IT managers struggle with prioritizing what’s important from what’s urgent. Internal customers create urgency with a variety of tactics when their routine is interrupted. Their urgency often interrupts IT managers from working on the important projects for the organization.

Next time you see your IT manager, say some kind words and help them build the IT-Business partnership.  At the end of the day, they want to make their customers happy and provide better solutions for everyone. It’s OK if you tell them that they need to work faster and cost less. They’ve heard it before and it gives them a little challenge. 🙂

Onward and upward!

 

What does the business require of me?

The question every IT professional should ask.

I think through this question quite a bit. It has significance in the equation of work satisfaction and success. It is fundamental in how every IT professional should approach their career.

What do my customers require of the Information Technology group?

Typically, we try to answer this question in terms of running the business and growing the business. I have lived the tug-of-war between providing stable systems that run the business and new systems that grow the business. It means being risk averse and cutting costs but yet taking risks and investing in new technologies. Can IT provide both and do both of them really well?

The irresistible force is growing the top line revenue of the company or finding new sources of revenue in an ever changing world.  But the immovable object is the need to keep existing systems running and to satisfy an ever growing list of compliance requirements. These two forces will compete for technology dollars and mindshare. .

But maybe I’m thinking about the answer in the wrong terms.

One of my guiding principles is that I want IT to be known for products and solutions over processes. This doesn’t mean that I don’t believe in processes. But I believe that customers don’t care about the ActJustlyprocesses we use unless they receive the products and solutions that solve their needs. The discussion about processes and procedures is much easier when the customer sees that IT is acting as a true partner and bringing solutions to the table.

In the Old Testament book of Micah there is a well known verse that says:

“He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” – Micah 6:8

In context, this verse teaches that relationship comes before sacrifices. But it could easily be applied to the question “what does the business require of IT”? To act first in the interest of the customer not in the interest of IT (act justly). To act with kindness in those relationships with customers and business associates outside of IT (love mercy). To value partnership over arrogance and be more interested in a solution with compromise than ‘being right’(walk humbly).

When these pieces are in place then the conversation of what the business requires of IT changes. The relationship is described with terms like partnership, joint, and mutual. The approach to problem solving becomes enjoyable for both parties. I believe Micah’s teaching transcends time and places. The business requires IT to be in relationship with them first. Then work to solve for running the business and growing the business.

Onward and upward!