A Business Technology Place

Forced change vs Needed change

A few weeks ago I read a passage from John Maxwell in his book The Maxwell Daily Reader about scurvy. The passage summarizes difficulties in implementing the cure for the prevention of the disease during the time of European exploration of the Americas. Multiple sources knew about the effect of fresh fruit and vegetables, but due to poor communication, stubbornness, and pride of the medical establishment, the change needed to prevent the disease was delayed.

I polled a couple of my colleagues to ask them what they thought is a modern day business scurvy. One of them replied, “This is a good question. Sometimes, forced change can hide needed change, and the two become hard to distinguish for relevancy and value with so much activity happening at once.”

His answer summarizes both the challenge faced by European sailors as well as leaders in our business environment today. I thought about this for a few minutes and then wrote a quick list to try to distinguish between ‘forced change’ and ‘needed change’. I did this quickly so as to record my “gut feel” and then observed the list as a means of reflection and learning.

Forced change

  • Reporting structure reorganization
  • Technology platform adoption
  • Technology platform migration
  • Compliance
  • Outsourcing

Needed change

  • Removing waste from processes
  • Adding value to a customer relationship
  • Cross-department collaboration improvements

When I read the list a few patterns occurred to me:

  1. The items in the ‘forced change’ list concern people, tools, and rules. The items in the ‘needed change’ list are about process, value, and communication.
  2. The items in ‘needed change’ are more impactful and longer lasting to the business.  The items in ‘forced change’ can be tactical tools to help drive needed change if executed for the right reason. For example, some technology adoption is aimed to reduce the process steps in product delivery (remove waste) to the customer. Likewise, some compliance changes will help an organization tighten their processes to be more secure in how they handle data (add value to customer relationship).
  3. The challenge with the items in the ‘forced change’ list is we often implement before there is a common understanding with all the employees about why those changes are enacted. Implementation of forced change truly feels forced. When that happens, the change will either fail outright or fail to achieve the desired results.

So what is our modern day business scurvy? I would answer; it is the failure to align the reasons for needed change in an organization with the tactical implementation of change. With that thought, I see signs of scurvy in my own management and leadership approach. Ouch. It’s time to find some citrus for my business diet.

Onward and upward!

Photo credit: Pablo Vidosola via Creative Commons – https://flic.kr/p/pGWebT

 

Do more with what you have!

We need more people. We don’t have enough resources.

Every week I hear about the conflict between the number of employees in the organization and the amount of work to do.  The underlying presumption is the organization can accomplish more by adding more people. The problem with this rationale is it takes the focus of solution delivery off the processes used to deliver solutions. Adding more people to a team is complicated:

  • It adds more strain on inter-team communication. Whatever inefficiencies exist in the current team environment will become more apparent with more people.
  • It creates the need to train and develop new people in the culture, business, and process flows of your company.
  • It moves the process bottleneck to another departmental team. For example, if you add more developers then you need more business analysts for requirements documentation.
  • It values urgent things over important things.

The right process will give the right results.

There are times when staff should be expanded. But it can’t be arbitrary and because the existing staff feels stressed about the existing workload. A better approach is to first examine the current environment for ways to work smarter and more focused. Process focused leaders look for ways to work smarter knowing that in the long run it will deliver greater capacity and more value added results. I don’t consider this doing more with less. I like to think of these actions as doing more with what you already have. Consider these approaches:

  • Write less code – If our first solution to solving a problem is writing code, then we’ve missed the opportunity to solve the problem by simplifying the process. The ultimate solution may require less code. Keep it simple!
  • Align value streams to your mission. – The activities we do that should be more important to us are the ones that align to our mission. The mission is a guide-post when deciding between what’s urgent and what’s important.
  • Develop existing employees before adding more. – The existing staff can provide more capacity if they work on the right things with more efficient processes. To do more with less we have to believe that getting existing people to understand the power of process efficiency, focus, and alignment adds more capacity. Get employees to work harder, but not before you help them work smarter.

Onward and upward!

Photo Credit: Jim1102 via creative commons.

 

Visual Management Board for Lean IT

A note from my Lean journey

A few years ago I was introduced to Lean concepts and principles at work. After several months of studying the topic I realized that many of my professional activities for both managing processes and people already mapped to some of the core components of Lean. That makes sense as many of the leading management philosophies and programs of our time share foundational elements.

One of the important principles of a Lean is visual management.  Visual controls are used to communicate information to people that indicate if the current condition of a system is acceptable. The Toyota Production System says to use visual controls so that no problems are hidden. It’s like the old phrase, “you can’t fix what you can’t see.”

On my personal Lean journey, my next task is to develop a Flow and Performance Board.  This will be a form of visual management that displays information to use at recurring team meetings. The contents on the board support the Lean principles of continuous flow and reducing waste. Effectively, the board becomes a visual control to see how flow of product is progressing for customer value-added activities and where waste exists in the system.

Flow and Performance for IT – My 1.0 version

I used the following guiding principles when designing the 1.0 version of a Flow and Performance Board for my IT shop:

  1. Show elements of product flow – At what stage work is in the system.
  2. Show key metrics – If possible show actual vs expected. The focus of the board, and Lean, is process flow and eliminating waste (as opposed to traditional boards that focus only on results).
  3. Show flow influencers – These are items that may influence the production system such as holidays and customer audits. The intent is to make the influencers visible ahead of time so it’s possible to manage through them instead of reacting to them.
  4. Show audit results – Part of the Lean journey is having leaders that inspect our work to see if we are following standard process. IT also has a rapidly growing set of requirements for compliance, which customers require, that fits in this space.

My 1.0 version of a board looks like this:

Since IT team members are geographically dispersed and most of our tools report data electronically then this will be an electronic board. Content will vary for different groups within IT. My first board is targeted towards and enterprise level view.

The board is intended to be referenced during recurring team meetings so that team members have a visual control as they inspect pieces of the product flow. As such, it should be easy to read and process information. The contents of the board must be current to be relevant. Ideally the board will updated dynamically to reduce the amount of non value-add work of administrative processes.

I anticipate I will wrestle with screen real-estate, content, and compactness with each future iteration.

Onward and Upward!

Rethink boarding airplanes

I don’t travel on airplanes often. For me this is a good thing. The airport routines of parking, security checkpoints, boarding, and rental cars typically leave me feeling like herded cattle. For the most part, all the players involved in each of these steps do a good job moving masses of people onto the next station. But this past week I was reminded about one of the peculiarities of air travel that makes me ask wonder why doesn’t someone change this.

The airplane boarding process

My experience:

  • About 20 minutes prior to the first call passengers start forming a mass of people near the gate to board the plane.
  • First call is for those needing extra assistance or time to board.
  • Second call is for families traveling with small children.
  • Third call is for the premium cabin ticketed passengers.
  • Fourth call is for priority status members.
  • Fifth call and subsequent is for zone boarding.

Here’s how all the major carriers approach boarding an airplane. There is no consistent method.

The result is a long line on the jet way that extends into the main cabin. The line constantly stops when the lead person puts their carry-on into the overhead storage. Then the flight crew usually comes on the overhead and starts fussing at the passengers that in order to make an on-time departure they need passengers to sit in their seats.

“It’s really a chaotic random mess where you don’t get the same results twice. Airline employees shouldn’t be griping at passengers about boarding when they use a process setup to achieve random results.”

There has to be a better way.

Ask why.

I started asking myself why is it this way and why do the airlines let the process exist like this.

Now remember, I don’t travel frequently. But this is what I observe:

  1. There is not enough overhead storage space to fit all the carry-on luggage/personal bags. Passengers are incented to want to board the plane first to get overhead storage.
  2. Many carriers are not charging additional fees to check luggage which makes more passengers carry bags for boarding.
  3. The carriers want to reward loyal passengers and those paying the highest fares with perks so they create priority boarding zones.

I’m just sayin’.

I believe the root cause for all this is the lack of overhead storage.

“What if every seat had an assigned cubby for storing carry-on baggage?”

Imagine if every passenger is guaranteed a spot for their extra personal item. This accomplishes several things:

  1. Carriers could use a process where the plan is boarded from the back to the front. This would minimize the delay caused by passengers stopping in the aisle to store their bags while others who are sitting behind them wait.
  2. Passengers would know exactly where their baggage is to be placed instead of randomly choosing a location. That will speed the process of baggage storage.
  3. It would alleviate the need for passengers to congregate at the boarding counter in an attempt to get on the plane ‘first’ because they know they have a guaranteed spot for their luggage.
  4. Quicker boarding times would increase on-time departures.

Certainly there would still be exceptions. Passengers needing extra time to board (handicap, elderly, families with small children, etc.)

You say it’s not possible.

That’s not possible. There isn’t enough space on the plane to do this. The carriers need to maximize the number of seats to maximize revenue per flight. There is considerable investment in existing fleets that don’t have this.

Engineers can solve this problem. We put a man on the moon and you’re telling me we can’t figure out how to create storage for every seat on an airplane? Sure there would be some trade-offs. Maybe it means losing a couple of rows of seats. Maybe it means finding ways to store luggage in addition to overhead bins. Maybe it means enforcing the maximum size of carry-on luggage. It is possible.

Air travel carriers would have to decide it is important and then work with equipment manufactures to make the investment to change.  The opportunity is there for someone.

Onward and upward!

The truth about IT processes.

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

Writing about processes in business and technology has a gravitational-like pull.

I’ve written more on the topic of technology processes than any other topic since I began blogging in 2008. Some of my favorites include posts on process improvement, hiding behind processes, simplifying processes, and the purpose of processes. Process management is a topic that we’ll always have because it creates the model and basis for the underlying flow of business transactions. Unfortunately it’s at the forefront as an underlying contributor to some of the dysfunction between IT groups and their partner business functions as well.

I have always aimed to create environments that use processes with the goal to allow employees flexibility to make decisions that help the customer. That statement sounds so obvious that you could say it’s a given. But I don’t think it’s a given because many processes I’ve been a part of in the past seem to be centered on the process itself rather than the customer. My career has been influenced by what I considered overly burdensome processes and watching employees make decisions for the sake of checking-off a process step instead of getting done what needs to happen. Jim Collins in his book “Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t” states that “Bureaucratic cultures arise to compensate for incompetence and lack of discipline, which arise from having the wrong people on the bus.  A culture of discipline involves a duality. On the one hand, it requires people who adhere to a consistent system; yet, on the other hand, it gives people freedom and responsibility within the framework of the system.”

Finding the right mix.

The duality that Collins speaks of is goal I set when I define a process within a group of IT professionals. That’s not easy in an IT group because programmers think in 1s and 0s or black and white. Something is or it isn’t. Here are a few examples:

  • Define a process that sets the criteria for when a work request is treated as a help desk ticket and when it requires review from a steering committee.
  • Define a process that set the criteria for when it is necessary to run a full regression test on a software product.
  • Define a performance management process for how to evaluate desktop/voice services personnel that use a job ticketing system for work management.

Some truths about IT processes.

  • Your opinion about processes from the IT group is highly dependent upon your role in the process. Those that have to follow a process to receive a service tend to try to find ways to take shortcuts. Those that have to follow the process to provide a service tend to like the process because it protects their time commitment and is correlated to their performance ratings.
  • IT processes are influenced by multiple sources. Standards organizations, litigation, process and frameworks are the most common sources. But sometimes processes are created to counteract bad behavior from IT employees and business customers. Processes that continue to add steps to offset bad behavior will lose sight of servicing the customer.
  • Every standards organization believes their process is the best. There are variations to software development lifecycles and spirited debates about what works best. The reality is that business environments and cultures vary. The best processes are the ones that fit and mold to the culture in which they exist and that stay focused on the customer.
  • Most people don’t avoid a process because they don’t believe it will help them. They avoid the process because they think it will take too long to get what they want. It’s the same concept as a driver that intentionally chooses to not get in a traffic line (stop light or interstate backup) and move forward only to cut-in-line later.
  • IT processes, like every other type of business process, exist to create standardized work, efficiency, and quality. They should never be considered complete but only in a state of production that includes measurement to see if adjustments are required.

Onward and upward!