A Business Technology Place

Finding spaces with different views

This week my son ended his baseball career after 13 years of playing the game through spring, summer, and fall. Our high school does a nice job with the senior recognition ceremony. It includes a lap around the infield to shake hands and hug the freshman, JV, and returning Varsity players. Then the player meets his family and walks to shake hands with the coaches while a player bio is read over the PA system. Next, a recorded message from the senior is played over the PA system. It’s a message the player leaves for their teammates, coaches, and family. The ceremony ends with each player making one final baseball toss to a family member.

Our school has a volunteer photographer who no longer has a son that plays baseball (8 years removed). He goes to every game home and away. He arrives before the game to take warmup photos and stays until the end. Then he posts probably 900-1,000 photos of each game online for parents and family to download. All of this free of charge. He takes pictures of other high school sports as well.Baseball1

At the end of the year, I was talking to him about the love of the game. Obviously he wants to find ways to stay around game long after his son was a player. It’s personal to him. He told me that taking photographs at the games fills a need in his life. It’s an outlet for a hobby. But on top of that, he told me,

“Taking pictures during the game allows me to find new spaces with different views.”

He is energized by seeing a game from different angles than what a fan sees in the bleachers. He sees the facial expressions of the boys, their body language, the dugout conversations, and even the silly moments. He often captures angles of a play that reveal new insights. His photos capture technique that can be used for instruction and learning. He is constantly probing for new angles and thinking about how to position himself for a different look.

Having an inquisitive nature to find new spaces with different views at work is a trait we all need but few exhibit. In IT and Operations, most attention is given to creating repeatable and predictable processes. Employees are focused on improving efficiencies by incrementally reducing lead times and delivering work faster starting from the same processes. Thinking about different views if often left for the process engineers or visionaries.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Just like my friend taking pictures of a game, we can all look for new spaces and different views. But it requires that we fully engage with the subject matter of our work.  It means getting out of our box and thinking about the customer, the equipment, the service, and the people from different angles. It means getting out of our offices and cubes to experience the business from another place. It means using the telephone to hear a customer or colleague instead of emailing them. My friend has to move around to take pictures of the game. He searches for places to stand and examines the view. He takes photos and then examines the results before adjusting to the next angle. That’s the rush of the experience and the involvement with the subject matter. If we aren’t excited about our jobs and careers to do this then it could be we are playing the wrong game.Baseball2

Go find your new space. Stretch out!

Onward and upward!

 

Dunking IT Developers in the river

My disclaimer this week is that I’m writing about an idea in my head. This is not something I’ve tried and have first-hand experience to report. But I’ve got feeling this idea will hold water if we can determine the logistics to make it happen. This I believe.

Setting context.

When I was a cooperative education student at Georgia Tech I was employed by a company in the northern Atlanta suburbs. The company setup a program that rotated two co-op students through different areas of IT so we could gain exposure and experience with different areas. My counterpart and I rotated different school/work quarters. While he worked one quarter I was in school. Then the next academic quarter we flipped. We had assignments in different groups including telephony, service desk, mainframe services, and networks. The program complemented our education at school and provided us with valuable experience to use when we graduated.

A larger version of this same principle is in corporations that have formal leadership development programs. High potential young employees are selected to go through a job rotation in different departments to prepare them for leading the business in the future. This is often coupled with exposure to international divisions in the business and includes rotations in departments like finance, sales, marketing, and operations.

Today, I was reading through some articles about job trends in Information Technology and I side-tracked onto an article from Fortune Magazine about skills employers want that are not found in a job description. Three of the five employee traits mentioned in the article can be strengthened by a job rotation program like leadership development or co-op rotation. They are 360-degree thinking, cultural competence, and empathy. I believe that these three employee traits are part of the challenge when people talk about the IT group not having alignment with other business departments.

The idea.

Put IT developers through a six week job rotation in the following departments: operations, sales, customer service, marketing, and finance.

 

The program would be setup put the IT developer on the front line of each department in entry level jobs so they can feel and touch the flow of business in the organization.

Black and White Concept Cartoon Illustration of Head Above Water Business Saying or Metaphor

Black and White Concept Cartoon Illustration of Head Above Water Business Saying or Metaphor

The objectives are different from a traditional leadership development program because this isn’t a program to develop managers or executives. But the objectives for developing more desired employee traits are the same:

  1. We want IT developers to be able to see business challenges holistically. This includes the viewpoint of the customer and the company.
  2. We want IT developers to create solutions that engage the customer and yet fit into the workflow of the business units behind their code. They’ll do this through cultural competence in their organization. Imagine how they might design a solution differently knowing how work is sold, configured, and produced.
  3. We want IT developers to be able to see business challenges through the eyes of other departments. A good way to break down barriers between departments is to walk a mile in their shoes.

Will the idea hold water?

Just like you, I can think of a hundred reasons why the idea would fail. Executing this idea would be difficult. The logistics of implementing the idea are complicated. Outside of the planning and job content, this idea requires cooperation from multiple groups of employees. For some it would mean slowing down to ‘train’ others. For the developers it would require they learn some skills outside of computer programming. Combine this with the trend that IT developers are becoming highly specialized in a specific area of the business or that IT developers tend to serve on one specific programming team because of technology-use and it would appear the idea has too many holes to work.

But I’m looking to build a more invested employee. I want to create a developer that can write code for solutions across a broader variety of disciplines.  This is about employee longevity, long term investment in talent, job rotation, and building patriots to the company’s mission.  

I see this like a baptism for IT developers by immersing them in the waters of the business river. When they come up from the dunking, they’ll have a new life with the ability to think more holistically, the ability to see business challenges through different lenses, and the ability to create solutions that are more connected to the business and customers they serve.

Onward and upward!

Photo Credit: Igor_Zakowski

Long term thinking – right now

“If you don’t have a real stake in the new, then just surviving on the old – even if it is about efficiency – I don’t think is a long-term game.” – Satya Nadella

Is any business safe surviving on “the old”? Managing a product or service that is in decline requires skill. Companies that do it well can use the cash to fund investment in other areas and to support their long term vision. I’ve spent a large portion of my working life in the print industry with declining product sets. The business of print is, and has been, a good business to run. But all products run the full life-cycle. Continuing to focusing on getting more efficient at a specific product or service is like a race to zero when competition is factored in the equation. At some point the financial margins have been squeezed and re-squeezed to a point that it becomes difficult to sustain and support the business for future growth.

How is long term thinking connected to now?Vision

One of the principles of the Toyota Production System (TPS) is to base management decisions on a long term philosophy. That’s easy to agree with, but more difficult to focus on in a business environment that demands quarterly results to shareholders. I’ve had a hard time seeing this principle supported over the years. Just how do I connect long term thinking to the here-and-now?

Inspiration comes when you aren’t looking for it.

This week I had lunch with a few colleagues and the conversation drifted to automobiles. Everyone at the table had a story about a car that was impactful to their lives. Each of our stories shared a common theme; each of us placed the most value on the vehicle that was reliable, required the least maintenance, and lasted well beyond any loan payments. As I reflected on it later, I realized that no one spoke about add-on features, engine sizes, or even gas mileage. The most important thing was reliability, predictability, and service. These are all characteristics of transportation that transcend the offering of an individual vehicle.

So I asked myself, what are the characteristics of my business and workgroup that transcend an individual goal or project? What are those characteristics that define an ability to create new and adapt the old with the changing conditions of the business?

How can I think long term in the now?

Engage with people

Investing in people at work is a long term commitment for both the relationship and the value the employee brings to the organization. When I stress the importance of a weekly one-on-one meeting it is intended to coach, mature, and grow the individual in the values of the company. When I make an objective for employees to seek continuing education, it is an investment in the long term skills of the employee and their ability to contribute to the company in the future.

Stick with the plan

Make long term goals part of the annual goals and objectives process. Sometimes these goals are a continuation of key metrics for more efficient processing. Sometimes these goals are to expand into new markets, launch new products, or improve efficiencies. The point is to make sure the goals align with the long term vision of the organization. This links to my current day activities because the work that I’m doing to satisfy an individual goal should support the long term vision. The work is a building block in moving the organization toward a future goal.

Be persistent

Another principle of TPS is that the right process will produce the right results. I know personally, I don’t accomplish every goal and objective I set for myself or group. But if the goal is aligned to the long term vision, then it shouldn’t be abandoned. Long term thinking ‘in the now’ means I should stay persistent to win the day. I should work through setbacks by rethinking my approach.

Those are three characteristics for long term focus that I see in my day-to-day. How do you push long term thinking into your everyday routine?

Onward and upward!

Photo Credit: C.P. Storm

Waiting for another marshmallow

Long term thinking.

This week I discussed the idea of basing management decisions on a long-term philosophy with a few of my colleagues. It’s a concept that few will argue against, but yet is known for creating friction within organizations between management and line workers.

I consider the relationship between management and shareholders as a major contributor that increases pressure around short term results. Healthy results are certainly desired by ownership and management, but it can lead to contention. The Harvard Business Review published a good article on the relationship between shareholders and management that describes factors that influence some of the behaviors on this topic.  It’s good reading for a historical view of the changing makeup of shareholders.

What the kids taught us.Marshmallow

Then I remembered the Stanford marshmallow experiment about delayed gratification. 15 minutes is a long time for a child!

The basic premise was a child was given a single marshmallow and they could eat it right-away. But if they waited for 15 minutes they could have two marshmallows.  What’s great was that researchers followed up with the experiment years later and found that children who were able to wait longer for the extra rewards “tended to have better life outcomes, as measured by SAT score, educational attainment,  and body mass index.” Now that’s something to think about!

Onward and upward!