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

Scribble Scrabble

Scribble Scrabble?

Two thoughts collided during my self-reflection this week. It started with an article from David Pierce at the Wall Street Journal about handwriting. Pierce explores the effects of the digital world on our penmanship scribble scrabble. He provides a well-framed set of options for getting the written word into electronic format. But Pierce also mentions the positive effects of handwriting on our ability to learn and remember information. When we type on a computer, we are prone to record each word while with writing we will summarize thoughts.

Then I remembered an article I wrote a few years ago about taking pen and paper to meetings rather than laptops. This is my preference because it helps me focus on the meeting rather than distractions of multitasking on my computer. Business meetings would be far more productive if no one was distracted by their laptops!

What insights can we learn from the value of handwritten notes and focused interactions?

Word Play.

I already use a paper notebook to record thoughts and action items throughout the day. While a pad of paper helps  me stay focused at the meeting table, I’m also a keyboard-junkie. I want everything important in electronic format so I can index for searching. I can type faster than I can write and electronic information provides efficiency.

In his article, Pierce discusses taking pictures of hand-written notes and allowing modern technology to recognize the characters for indexing and searching. I love the simplicity of this solution because it removes logistical challenges with writing electronically. It also works for meeting content on whiteboards.

When I write,  I prefer print over cursive. I don’t recall when I made that change, but I remember writing in cursive during high-school to capture notes faster. Print is better for optical character recognition software and gives clarity and precision to my documents. Maybe i’m slower writing print. But it’s legible and precise.

Find time to wrestle with the concepts of note taking, productivity, handwriting if you haven’t already. You might discover some hidden insights about yourself.

Onward and upward!

Corralling your task list and action items

The Chaotic Symphony.

Throughout the course of a typical week in the office I attract action items and tasks like mosquitos on a summer night. They appear from every direction and often without notice as part of what I call organizational entropy. Most professional workers today have this dilemma because there are so many sources tasks can originate:

  • Meeting minutes (usually in a word file or email)
  • Meeting minutes (verbally given because no one wrote the minutes)
  • Emails
  • Ticketing system / Service desk
  • Project plans (Excel, MS Project, Software Development System)
  • Personal notebooks
  • Hallway conversations
  • CRM
  • Customer requests for information

It’s easy to get to a state where the loudest voices get my attention during the week and I lose all sense of priority. Having tasks in multiple places makes it easy to lose them and really difficult to see what is most important. Help!

Make a Corral.

I’ve tried different systems over the years to corral tasks into a reduced number of areas. I try to group personal tasks outside of ticketing systems and email together into one tool. Getting down to one tool is part of a simplification plan that makes managing action items achievable. A single location allows me to group, sort, and prioritize the list.

I’ve tried a number of electronic solutions over the years and at times I just use pen and paper. There is a no perfect tool or system. What we choose to use is a personal preference based on how we think, how we mentally organize data, and what we can make part of our routine.

Personally, I prefer a tool that puts a task into the context of the larger body of work. I like a task list that is easily searchable. I like a tool that allows me to add notes and related documents to the task.

Some action items, like service tickets, are assigned in group workflow tools. These tasks require interaction with the customer/requestor or project manager. Using group workflow tools provides communication back to the requestor and keeps a record of the interaction.

Two important attributes for tasks.

To create an effective system for tracking my tasks and action items I try to focus on two key attributes. If you are evaluating methods or tools then consider these:

  1. Communication – Keeping the requestor current with clear communication is the best way to reduce the number of status report inquiries.
  2. Visibility – It hurts when I forget about a task. That’s like letting someone down because I forgot about something that is important to them. I need to pick a tool that I will both use and will see through the course of a day.

Making it routine.

Since I have tasks in both a personal to-do list and group workflow systems, I created an entry in my leader standard work definition so they receive recurring attention. Without some definition of routine our day is ruled by the loudest voices. That’s not productive.

Let’s do this.

Onward and upward!

Windows 10 productivity tips and tricks

I’ve been using Windows 10 for about seven months for both home and office computing. Here’s a quick list of some useful productivity tricks I like to use:

  1. Print to PDF

The ability to transform any document to PDF format is built in to Windows 10. Just select the print function from your application and choose the built-in printer called “Microsoft Print to PDF”. This will prompt you for the location to the save the PDF. From there you can share or print to paper as needed.

  1. Change applications / Task view

For the longest time I’ve switched to another open application by scrolling through open applications with the atl+tab keys. I still use that quite a bit because it is habit. Windows 10 shows open applications in a condensed view (called task view) in several ways:

  • Windows Key + tab
  • Three finger swipe up on the touch pad
  • Pressing the task view button on the taskbar TaskView

TaskView Windows

  1. Using virtual desktops

Windows 10 supports virtual desktops. It’s a way to assign open applications to different desktops. In our office environment most employees use multiple physical monitors while docked to get this effect. They can drag windows across monitors. But if you don’t have multiple monitors you can get the effect using a virtual desktop. Here’s how:

  • Windows key + tab to open task view
  • Three finger swipe up  to open task view

At the bottom of the screen you’ll see desktops in the center and a button to create a new desktop in the right corner. You can drag open windows from the task view into a desktop at the bottom.

This could be useful if you have some applications that need to remain open but you don’t want them to clutter the space in your primary working view.

Virtual Desktop

  1. Minimize all open windows / Show desktop

I frequently want to get something on the desktop view and I start minimizing open windows. After four or five clicks I still haven’t found the desktop because I didn’t realize how many open windows I had! Here’s a simple way to get back to the desktop:

  • Windows key + D
  • Three finger swipe down on the touch pad
  1. Scroll up/down

There are many ways to scroll up and down on a screen. A nice feature for laptop users with a touchpad is to use two fingers on the touchpad to scroll up and down.

  1. Wi-Fi on/off Toggle

I move between wired and wireless connections each day. I don’t like to have Wi-Fi enabled while I’m on a wired connection. Technically Windows will support this configuration but I don’t like the idea of having two default gateways and Windows choosing how paths are prioritized. For some reason by default Windows prioritizes the wireless connection over a wired connection even though throughput for the wired connection should be higher. Here’s how to toggle the Wi-Fi on/off:

  • There is a physical toggle switch on many laptops. My Dell model has a slide switch on the right-side next to the USB connections.
  • Press this icon in the task bar  Messages  or select Windows key + A. This will bring up a series of toggle switches for commonly used features. One of them is Wi-Fi . WifiSimply press the toggle switch to turn on/off.

Let me know what productivity tips and tricks you have for Windows 10.

Onward and upward!

Open space – Private space

Open spaces in the office?

I’ve started reading Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. Part 1 of the book, titled “Extrovert Ideal”, suggests that American society is dominated by those who project, present, and socialize well with large groups. Cain gives examples and shows that extroverts are the people most likely to influence and lead our society. As Cain relates to the business world she touches on the trend over the past decade to tear down cubicle walls and build open spaces. The rationale of business and organizational planners is that open spaces are cheaper to maintain and promote greater team unity and collaboration. Cain argues that these open spaces are not having the desired effect on collaboration and in-fact may hinder it. (She uses the results of numerous studies that I won’t restate here.) One of her main points is that inventors, artists, writers, and engineers need private spaces to create their best work. This is counter to the New Groupthink ideology that teaches creativity comes from open and collaborative places.cubicle_1_typepool

What’s that noise?

I searched for other viewpoints on this topic because I have a direct interest in how to lead and motivate groups of people that code (create something) for a living. Lindsey Kaufman writes that open offices are detrimental to productivity. I like Kaufman’s viewpoint because she gives first-hand experience of moving to an open office format. One of her main assertions is that productivity suffers as a result of noise distractions. What’s lost is the ability to concentrate on a single task and think uninterrupted for an extended period of time.

Should we dump open office spaces?

As with most things in life, I feel like office seating arrangements needs to find a balance. There is a case for open seating and group collaboration. There are times when groups do need to come together and share their ideas and work through problems. But there are also times when those who create things for a living need a private space to work their trade.

I don’t have the answers, as I’ve just begun to wrestle with this question and the viewpoints of others such as Cain and Kaufman. Knoll Work Place Research put together a nice study comparing and contrasting open work spaces to private offices.  For most companies it is not financially possible to have every employee assigned to a private office. But there are options that can be explored to find a balance for employees:

  • Work from home for private office space
  • Have a set of offices designated as private spaces around the office. Employees can reserve the spaces as they would a conference room or operate first come-first serve. I expect there would be other logistical items to work-through with this arrangement such as how long the space can be reserved.
  • The study by Knoll shows that the height of walls between stations in an open space has an impact on the productivity of workers. Lower walls open-up collaboration but can also make employees concerned about privacy and added noises.

I don’t think completely dumping open office spaces is the best answer. Companies need to develop cultures and that is difficult to do if everyone is always working privately.

If you have an opinion on this topic, I’d love to hear from you. I’m particularly interested in first-hand experiences.

Onward and upward!