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I’ve hired hundreds of people during my career, and my process has been pretty consistent for all of those hires:

1. Decide on the need for a person in a job. Maybe it’s a replacement for someone who left, or maybe it’s a new position that I need for a project or for an expansion of a functional area.

2. Define the job. I’m not a personal fan of job descriptions, but they’re important for recruiting and for determining a fair level of pay. So I’ll usually put one together, sometimes working with someone in Human Resources (HR). In many cases, the job is similar to another existing job, and so the job definition and salary range are based on that other job. Once in a while, I’ll create a totally new position, and then it takes a bit more thought and effort to define the position and its salary level.

3. Get approval for the position if necessary (this depends on [click to continue…]

I’ve promoted 20 or 30 people into their first manager jobs during my career. Two of those promotions were failures — they did so badly that I had to take them back out of the positions. Here’s what I learned from that experience.

Background
In both cases there was ample evidence that the people were ready for a promotion. Both people had performed well as project leaders where they provided direction to others. Both were respected by their peers and customers, and had good communication skills. Both people had worked for me for a few years, so I had a pretty good idea of what their strengths and weaknesses were.

The First Failure
The first failed manager was promoted into a software development manager position. She had shown good ideas as a project leader, and I expected her to dig right in when she had her own people reporting to her. But I didn’t recognize a problem she had with self-confidence and prioritization.

As a project leader she had to make decisions, and she seemed to cope well with the decision-making process. But [click to continue…]

How to Sell to a CIO

In 2006 I wrote an article explaining a recommended sales approach for selling to a CIO. The article has been available as a downloadable PDF file since that time, but I thought it might be a good idea to have the text of that article available directly on my blog as well. And after my last article on the Emperor’s New Clothes, I figured this is the right time to share the original 2006 article. If you’re in sales, then this is aimed directly at you. If you’re a CIO (or someone else in IT) being bothered by salespeople, then send your sales reps a link to this article so they’ll figure out how to meet your needs. Here’s the article:

Chief Information Officers (CIOs) have responsibility for choosing the best information technology for use by their company, and then for implementing the technology and supporting it on an ongoing basis.  Their job definition calls for them to pay attention to new technology appearing on the market so that they can determine whether use of the new technology will provide benefit to their company.

I’ve known a lot of CIOs over the years, and they all have one thing in common: they’re very busy people.  Most CIOs like to hear about new products and services as much as the next person, but because of their position they’re bombarded by salespeople day and night.  It gets to the point where they’re afraid to go to industry meetings because they get attacked by salespeople; it’s like movie stars and paparazzi.  I know some CIOs who carefully register for industry meetings using a less prestigious job title just so their name tag doesn’t identify them as a target.

The reason for this CIO behavior is obvious: there’s a lot of money in technology sales, and CIOs are key decision-makers for most of those technology sales.  If you can’t sell the CIO, then you’re not likely to sell a technology at all.  And because there are so many more technology salespeople than CIOs, the CIOs are hopelessly outnumbered, and many of them become reclusive.

This article is written for technology salespeople to help them sell to CIOs.  I’m writing the article because someone needs to define the rules of engagement for such a sale.  I want to protect CIOs from being badgered, and I figure that if I give you a better way to sell to CIOs then maybe you’ll be more likely to leave them alone when they’re out in public.  Most of the badgering comes from bad sales technique, so here’s the right way to sell to CIOs.

The Psychology of a CIO
Let’s start by getting an understanding of the type of person who becomes a CIO.  There are two types [click to continue…]

As a child, I read the story “The Emperor’s New Clothes” by Hans Christian Andersen. The story is one of the earliest known accounts of a trick that technology salespeople use all of the time. Let me first recap the story, and then I’ll explain the trick and how to deal with it.

The Plot of the Children’s Story
According to the plot, a pretentious emperor always wants to be seen as superior to everyone else. Some con men convince him that they can make him a new set of clothes that are better than anything he has ever worn. The clothes are incredibly thin and luxurious, and so light that they feel like air. But the clothes have one interesting property: People who are unworthy can’t see them at all.

So the con men get out their weaving equipment and go through the motions of making cloth. The emperor watches the early stages of manufacture, and notices that he can’t see the cloth. But he keeps his mouth shut because speaking out would reveal the emperor as unworthy. The con men continue with their charade, pretending to sew the invisible cloth together until they have an invisible set of clothes.

The con men bring their fake clothes to the emperor in his bedroom. The emperor strips down, and the con men pantomime putting the clothes over the emperor’s head and fastening them in place. “Are they not as light as air like we promised?” they ask. The emperor, too proud to admit that he can’t see anything, agrees that they are definitely very light.

The emperor gets in his open carriage for a trip through the city. The story of the emperor’s clothes has preceded the procession, so everyone watching the king figures they’re just unworthy because they can’t see anything. And no one watching wants to acknowledge this because then everyone would know that they’re unworthy. But then a small child watching the procession cries out, “The emperor has no clothes!” Suddenly everyone, including the emperor, realizes that they’ve been conned.

The Modern Trick
The modern equivalent of this trick is to sell a technology that doesn’t make sense by convincing you that the technology is so advanced that you can’t understand it. The sales people start with a simple yet far-reaching premise, something like “we’ve invented a revolutionary new database technology that [click to continue…]

Emergencies Aren’t Strategy

In a previous article I talked about how there are two reasons for strategy: focus and communication. It seems like companies have a lot of trouble with focus. Particularly in large companies, there’s a tendency to “focus” on everything at once: accomplishing all of your objectives, expanding in all of your markets, increasing revenues in all product lines at the same time that you’re cutting costs in all departments. And of course this defeats the entire idea of focus, which is to concentrate your resources on the few things that are the most important. If everything is important, then nothing is really important.

Some companies and governments have attempted to get around their lack of focus by using emergencies. They declare a certain situation as an emergency, and then go into some sort of lock-down to concentrate all of their labor and money on solving the emergency. This can be successful but it’s self-defeating. It leads to employee burnout, it’s seldom cost-effective, it typically goes after symptoms instead of the underlying core problem, and it has a short-term focus with no support for long-term solutions.

Companies get into trouble when they replace their strategy process with a series of emergencies, jumping from emergency to emergency without ever putting things into perspective. This is everything that strategy shouldn’t be: impromptu, short-lived, wasteful, pushy, and stressful.

A state of emergency should be reserved for those situations when [click to continue…]

Is Your Strategy a Rifle or a Shotgun?

A strategy can be viewed as a way of achieving an objective. A coach’s strategy for the football game might be to attack relentlessly on the ground. A general’s strategy for the battle might be to feint an attack to the center while flanking from the right. A CEO’s strategy for the business might be to become #1 or #2 in every market and to withdraw from markets where her company can’t be #1 or #2. A corrupt politician’s strategy to get elected might be to align with the “smaller government” movement to gain votes while secretly taking money under the table from businesses who need special favors.

The Common Thread
As diverse as these strategies are, they all share one thing: they deal with a limited amount of time and resources by focusing that time and those resources in one particular direction.

The football coach knows that a game only has 60 minutes of play, that his opposing team has the best pass defense in the league, and that his own defensive team isn’t as good as theirs. So he plays to his team’s strengths, and focuses as much playing time as possible to keep the ball on the ground and to chew up the clock by making short gains.

The general knows that his army is a pretty even match for the enemy forces, but he rearranges his troops to move more of his troops to the right, hoping to keep the move secret until he attacks in surprise from that direction. While he’s focusing more of his soldiers on the right side, he’s leaving the left side vulnerable. But he’s betting that the enemy won’t realize the vulnerability until the right side troops overwhelm a significant number of the enemy.

The CEO has done enough research to show that, in these particular markets, only the #1 and #2 competitors get enough market share to be profitable. So by [click to continue…]

In my previous post I described Shadow IT and the problems it causes. In this post I’ll describe some approaches that the formal IT organization can take to deal with Shadow IT, and I’ll give you some recommendations.

5 Approaches to Dealing with Shadow IT
Most formal IT organizations take one of five different approaches in dealing with Shadow IT:

  1. Ignore it. This can be dangerous for two reasons. First, since a business organization’s use of Shadow IT is an indication that the business organization is not happy with what your IT organization is providing, ignoring the Shadow IT means that you’re ignoring the fact that the customer organization is unhappy. And second, it’s quite likely that some of the systems purchased or written by the Shadow IT group will end up being “thrown over the wall” into the formal IT organization, or at least require interfaces with formal IT systems. So if you ignore Shadow IT now, then you (or your replacement) will regret it later.
  2. Fight it. This can work if the formal IT organization has enough support from the CEO. To fight Shadow IT successfully, you’ll have to create explicit standards on what can or can’t be purchased, built, or contracted for by the business organizations, and then you’ll have to police those standards rigorously. This works well if IT has a good relationship with the various parts of the business, so the approach’s success is highly dependent on the individual people holding the various positions. But you can’t let down your guard for a second — it’s very easy for a business executive to sneak something in when you’re not looking.
  3. Discourage it. This is a slightly milder version of “Fight it,” and it’s often easier than the “Fight it” approach when IT doesn’t have all the executive support you would like. You still need the explicit standards on what the business can or can’t do, but you have to pick your battles on what you fight and what you ignore.
  4. Work with it. This is a more proactive, positive version of alternatives #2 and #3. [click to continue…]

Shadow IT is one of the names for the Information Technology work and expense that’s done outside of the control of the formal IT organization and outside the formal IT budget. It’s more prevalent in some companies than in others, and it often changes over time within a company. I’ve found that the amount of Shadow IT in a business usually varies in inverse proportion to the level of satisfaction the business feels for the formal IT organization. If business people feel that the formal IT organization is providing everything the business needs, then Shadow IT is virtually nonexistent. But if the formal IT organization is failing, then the expenditure on Shadow IT can exceed the formal IT budget.

To understand Shadow IT, imagine yourself as a business executive. You’ve got a job to do and business objectives to achieve. If you feel that the formal IT organization is standing in the way of achieving your goals, then you’ll find another way to be successful, even if it means hiring consultants or utilizing your employees to create your own underground IT organization.

The Good News
Shadow IT has good points and bad points. One of the good points is that Shadow IT demonstrates a real business interest in information technology and in information technology projects. You know the interest is real when the business is willing to invest their own budget to get work done that they feel they can’t get done through normal channels.

The Problem
But Shadow IT also has bad points. Business executives who make their own IT decisions optimize those decisions around their perception of their own short-term needs, and they underestimate the interdependency that their systems have with other corporate systems.

Let’s break down that problem into its three components: [click to continue…]

A lot of people in the United States are against what they call “big government.” Yet most of those people are in favor of government services that they consider essential. In many cases, the concern about big government is not actually a concern about the size of government — it’s more a concern about a government that has gotten out of control, a government that no longer seems to manage its expenses wisely, a government that seems to waste money on things that people consider foolish.

Much the same could be said about many IT organizations. When business people have a negative view of their IT organizations, it’s not a statement that information technology shouldn’t be used in their business — it’s more of a concern that the company’s investment in IT is not being used wisely.

In some cases, self-interest plays a role in criticism of government or IT spending. Some people consider an investment “wise” if it provides benefit to them, and unwise if it provides benefit to someone else instead.

But in most cases, a criticism of IT spending — just like a criticism of government spending — is based on a lack of understanding of exactly where the money is going. The popular term for this is a “lack of transparency.”

What is Transparency?
Transparency can mean different things to different people, but the key elements of successful transparency are: [click to continue…]

In my previous post I defined the term “Portable Expert” and I described the two secrets that make portable expertise possible. In this post I’ll give you some examples of portable expertise from my own experience, I’ll list four advantages of hiring a portable expert, and I’ll give you some tips on how to create your own portable experts.

An Example of Portable Expertise
Back in the mid-1980’s I led a group that was responsible for creating new systems for a tax-filing business.  We were starting from scratch with no existing investment in hardware or software, so I first had to figure out what hardware and software to buy.  I did enough research to determine the front-running candidates, and then did even more research to narrow down my choices.  I decided to use an SQL database (somewhat leading edge in the 1980’s) because I knew we needed flexibility in extracting information from huge amounts of data.  I also went with a 4GL (fourth general language — a concept that was pretty advanced for the day) for construction of the user interface for our systems.

Next I had to train our programmers in the use of these techniques.  I was very much a working manager — not an administrator — so I went through all of the training myself along with my team.  I needed to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the software we were using, and I needed to know enough to match up team members with areas in which they would excel.

We needed someone to design the database, and I knew that [click to continue…]

2 Secrets of a Portable Expert

The traditional view of expertise is that you become an expert by spending many years working in a broad area.  In gardening, for example, you gain expertise by working with different plants, experimenting with different nutrients and soils, and by making mistakes and then learning from your mistakes.  Under this traditional view you are then labeled as an expert gardener, but not an expert on anything else.  To become an expert on something else, you have to devote many more years.  Thus you’re unlikely to become an expert on more than one or two things during your lifetime.

But there’s an alternate approach to expertise. Using the alternate approach, you can become a temporary expert on hundreds of different things during your lifetime. You can’t remain a expert on many of these things at one time, but usually being an expert on one or two things at a time is enough.

Change has Accelerated
The pace of life has changed a great deal in the last fifty years.  Up until the mid-1900’s most people got educated in a certain field and then [click to continue…]

In 1986 a book called “The E-Myth” attracted a lot of attention. The “E” in “E-Myth” refers to entrepreneur, and according to the myth in Michael Gerber‘s book, if you’re good at a particular skill then you’ll do well starting a business which requires that skill. So, for example, if you’re a good cook then you’ll do well starting a restaurant. Or if you take good photographs then you’ll do well starting a photography business.

As you might expect from the use of the word “myth,” the book presents a case that this myth is not true. The skills and inclinations of an artisan are not the same ones required of a businessperson, and most people don’t realize that starting and running a business require only a relatively small percentage of time devoted to the skill that underlies the business. Very little of a restaurant owner’s time is spent cooking; in fact, most restaurant owners hire someone else to cook. Very little of a professional photographer’s time is spent taking pictures; more time is spent marketing and running the business. Even for the highly-paid professions like dentists, doctors or lawyers, you might spend a lot of time doing your craft if you work for someone else, but if you start your own business then you’ll have to devote a lot of hours to basic business tasks that are unrelated to the profession itself.

The book goes on to say that when people who believe the E-Myth attempt to follow their dream and turn an amateur skill into an actual business, they either wake up to reality and scramble to learn the real skills required, or their business idea fails.

The E-Myth’s Impact on Information Technology Organizations
In Information Technology, we often run into people who follow technology columns in the press and so they claim to understand IT. Or they take a programming course in college and so they claim to know how to develop software. Or they own an iPhone and use Siri, and so they claim to understand mobile technology and artificial intelligence.

These people have fallen victim to the same erroneous thinking as the E-Myth: they’re equating an amateur level knowledge of a subject [click to continue…]

When I interview prospective candidates, I look for four key attributes: enthusiasm, curiosity, insight, and perspective. Here’s why:

Enthusiasm
Motivation is probably one of the most important attributes of a good employee, and the best kind of motivation comes from enthusiasm. Enthusiastic employees are eager to work. They volunteer for assignments. They work longer hours because they want to — not because they have to. They have an inner drive that keeps them going when other employees are running out of steam.

There are other types of motivation. An employee with a new baby at home may be motivated. An employee who is deeply in debt may be motivated. But enthusiasm is not the same as working for a good reason. Enthusiasm is a motivation that comes from inside rather than a feeling prompted by external factors. Most enthusiastic people are enthusiastic about everything. They live life just a little bit larger than everyone else.

Curiosity
A person who is naturally curious always wants to know more. Curious people don’t take things for granted. If something doesn’t work [click to continue…]

Trust is an important part of every relationship, but in some cases it’s more important than others. It’s easy to say you trust someone when you can watch their every move to see if they’re doing what they said they would do. It’s harder to trust someone when they’re far away for extended periods of time and you can’t see what they’re doing.

Trust is a substitute for inspection. When you trust someone, it means that you have an inherent faith that they will do what they said they will do, and that they will abide by the principles to which you have both agreed. But even in a trusting relationship, it’s good to do inspection every now and then, just to reassure both parties that the trusting relationship is continuing.

Trust is Between Individuals
Trust is between individuals, not organizations. You may say that you trust your IT organization, but what you really mean is that you trust the person in charge of your IT organization to make sure that everyone in their organization follows the agreements you have established. Or you may mean that you trust a specific individual in your IT organization — whether or not they’re the manager — to follow up with other individuals in the organization who are doing work on your behalf. That trusted individual will either ensure that the work is being done properly or will report back to you immediately if there is a problem that needs to be solved.

In either case, if that individual leaves the organization and is replaced by someone else, then [click to continue…]

If you’ve traveled much, then you’ve probably noticed that the more expensive, “better” hotels charge for WiFi while the same service is often included in the room rate at less expensive hotels.  This phenomenon probably seems odd to you — isn’t this the opposite of what you should expect? In this article I’ll provide an explanation, and I’ll offer advice on how you can avoid the same problem in your own business.

Upscale Hotels were Early Adopters
The roots of the pricing problem go back to the early history of providing Internet access in hotels. The more upscale hotels were the first to offer Internet access, and because early Internet access required a wired connection, there was a considerable investment required to update a hotel’s infrastructure. Ethernet outlets had to be provided in every room, cables had to run through the hotel walls to link the outlets, and routers and bridges had to be added throughout the building to link together all of this cable. This required an expertise that was beyond the capabilities of most hotels, and so independent companies jumped in to fill the gap.

The independent company would [click to continue…]

Never Stop Questioning

There’s a certain age that kids go through when they seem to have an endless supply of questions:

“Why is the sky blue?”

“Why do cows make a moo sound?”

“Why don’t planes fall out of the sky?”

“Why are traffic lights red, yellow and green and not purple, orange and pink?”

And then, as we get older, the questions decline until the point when we stop asking.  Albert Einstein said, “The most important thing is to not stop questioning.” But as Buckminster Fuller observed, “All children are born geniuses; 9,999 out of every 10,000 are swiftly, inadvertently degeniusized by grownups.”

Why Do We Stop Questioning?

  • We lose the wonder of childhood.  We’re not as interested in things that aren’t part of our everyday routine. We stop caring so much about the world around us.
  • We focus on the specific things that are important to us and stop [click to continue…]

I never hire the best person for the job, but I always try to hire the best person for my company’s future. Here’s my reasoning:

A job is a task-oriented view of the business. Jobs are constantly changing because business needs are constantly changing. The best person for a job is the person who can do right now exactly what needs to be done right now. But due to the rate of change in business, it’s unlikely that what needs to be done right now is what will be needed tomorrow.  Requirements will change, customers will change, business processes will change, the world will evolve.

So what I really need is not someone who can do today’s job today — I need someone who can do tomorrow’s job tomorrow, and then continue to evolve to be able to do day-after-tomorrow’s job day-after-tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that.

What I’m talking about is [click to continue…]

Every morning I post a new quotation on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.  The quotation on February 9th, 2012 was from Jerry Weinberg, one of my mentors in the IT industry.  The quotation was:

“It may look like a crisis, but it’s only the end of an illusion.”

Many years ago, I copied this quotation to my list of favorites when I read one of Jerry’s books, “The Secrets of Consulting: A Guide to Giving and Getting Advice Successfully.”  And when I recently reread the quote taken out of the context of the book, it struck me at first as a kind of wisecrack — the kind of thing you’d say as a quick rejoinder to someone’s Facebook post about a problem they’re having.

But then I read it again and, even without going back to the book for context, I saw how profound it is.

One dictionary reference defines crisis as:

1. a stage in a sequence of events at which the trend of all future events, especially for better or for worse, is determined; turning point.

2. a condition of instability or danger, as in social, economic, political, or international affairs, leading to a decisive change.

3. a dramatic emotional or circumstantial upheaval in a person’s life.

But these are point-in-time definitions — they define a crisis based on what’s happening now.  Instead, we need to consider the entire timeline over which a crisis develops.  For example, the BP gulf oil spill didn’t [click to continue…]

Does a Higher GPA Make You A Better Employee?

Someone tweeted me a question yesterday, “Is GPA [Grade Point Average] an accurate summary of how someone will be as an employee?” I checked the source of the tweet and — no surprise — it seems to be coming from a student. I don’t know the person but my guess is that he is either struggling and trying to rationalize his lower grades, or he’s got a high GPA and he’s trying to justify his hard work. But the question seems to be asked in a way that wants a “no” answer, kind of like a kid asking, “Do I really have to do my homework?”

Well I’m going to surprise the questioner by answering “yes,” but then I’ve got a major disclaimer to go along with my answer. That’s because I believe that GPA does in fact highly correlate with how you’ll act as an employee. Students with high grades have shown that they can:

  • Focus their energy on following directions even when the directions are unrealistic and make no sense
  • Perform as well in subjects that they can’t stand as they do in subjects they love [click to continue…]

The Naive CIO

The naive CIO believes all the articles telling you that it’s your duty as a CIO to prevent devices like iPhones, Android devices and tablets of all types from coming into your workplace. The naive CIO may actually believe that there is a workplace these days, even though more and more business is being conducted away from the office and maybe even away from your home city or country. The naive CIO thinks that “enterprise IT” [click to continue…]

8 Techniques for Dealing with Grief

In a previous article I talked about the loss of my wife and some of the things I’m going through. Since that time I’ve gotten a little better at dealing with my loss. In this article I’ll share some of the techniques I’ve been using. I think they’re applicable in dealing with any loss, whether it’s a loved one, a friend, or even a job. Here are the eight techniques:

1. Let go of the guilt
You probably feel guilty about things you did or said, or things you didn’t do or didn’t say. Unfortunately, it’s too late for that now: what’s done is done and there’s no going back. So forgive yourself and forgive those in your past. There’s nothing to be gained by carrying that guilt, and there’s no one imposing it on you but yourself. Let go of the guilt and move on. Focus on what will be — not what was or wasn’t.

2. Put regret behind you
Regret is a lot like guilt, but maybe not as intense or destructive. Nevertheless [click to continue…]

Grief and Disentangling

My wife Sharon passed away July 31st, and I would like to describe some of the thought process I’ve been going through for the last month. My wife’s death wasn’t sudden. She was diagnosed with ALS two years ago, and she’s been through a progressive loss of muscle control over various parts of her body. First she had difficulty walking, then she started to slur her speech and she gradually lost the ability to speak altogether. She had trouble swallowing and ended up getting a feeding tube through the stomach. Soon she needed a wheelchair, and then she couldn’t hold her head up. And toward the end she lost the ability to use her arms and hands, and eventually the ability to breathe.

But this article isn’t about Sharon — at least not in that way. It’s about the way that we tend to tangle our lives up with the lives of others, until we find that we sometimes have a hard time figuring out what our lives are like as individuals. [click to continue…]

My friend Derek Cheshire made an interesting observation yesterday:

Tell me if I’m being stupid but after reading about the Greek austerity measures I do wonder why we have to try and make hundreds of public sector employees redundant. Why not just trim pay by say 10%? At least there would be more people with money to help keep the rest of us afloat.

Derek’s question got me thinking.  In general if you’re with a business or government agency and you need to cut labor cost, should you let people go or should you try to keep people employed by cutting everyone’s pay?

First, some perspective
Most businesses and government agencies have gotten more productive over the last twenty years.  For a long time people wondered whether technology really makes a difference, but we’ve come to realize that it indeed makes a huge difference in productivity.  It’s not uncommon for a business to operate with a small fraction of the labor required in the past, and in many cases the quality and customer service is actually better with more technology and fewer employees.

In spite of productivity increases, most businesses didn’t cut their number of employees as productivity grew.  In cases where business volume increased, the productivity gain enabled the business to absorb the increased volume without having to add as many people.  And in cases where business volume remained relatively stable, there wasn’t a big economic incentive to get rid of people.  It was easier to just hold on to the employees you already had than to go through the heartache of reducing your labor force.

Then the economic downturn hit.  Profitability disappeared, and companies had to make hard choices about all of their expenses.  Projects got put on hold.  Travel and training budgets got hit hard.  And eventually the cuts got deeper and layoffs became more common.  Companies realized that they really don’t need all these people since technology has made the remaining employees more productive.  Jobs are being cut that will never be needed again.

Here is the way most businesses look at the problem of reducing labor cost
Businesses look at a workforce reduction [click to continue…]

Listening is one of the most important traits of a good manager. Good managers spend most of their time listening: listening to their employees describe the problems they’ve encountered, listening to what their bosses tell them to do, listening to what customers have to say about products and services.

Beginning managers listen
It’s easy to listen when you’re early in your career. After all, you don’t know very much, and the people around you can provide you with useful information. You learn about how things have always been done, and if you push a little, you’ll even learn why. Dig a little deeper, and you can learn whether the reasons are still valid.

You’ll learn about your customers, what they like, what they don’t like, how their lives can be made better through use of your products and services, and how your products and services sometimes make them miserable. You’ll learn that customers enjoy being listened to, and you’ll learn that very few companies listen enough.

You’ll learn about your employees, who they are when they’re away from the office, what they want out of life, what they enjoy and what they worry about at night. You’ll learn that they’re individuals — not just robots who take direction — and that [click to continue…]

There’s a naive belief among many new managers that employee personal problems should be irrelevant to job performance and therefore something that managers can ignore. We like to believe that when employees walk through the office door, all of their personal problems are left behind. To managers with this belief, employees are like robots: treat them all the same way and just focus on the work.

But the fact is that people are not like robots. And as much as we would like to believe that personal life doesn’t impact a person’s work, it very much does. Exhausted new parents suffering from lack of sleep due to a crying infant aren’t able to be as creative as they’d like. Workers dealing with problems at home often find their minds wandering, and don’t do their best work. Employees who are in pain — either physical or emotional — don’t operate at peak levels.

It’s our job as managers to get the best work out of our employees. But it’s also part of our job to keep our employees motivated and happy so that they will continue to be a contributing part of our organization for the long term. And to do that well we have to know the employees as individuals, and to help them through some of the personal issues that interfere with their ability to do their best work.

Here are some tips on how to help employees with their personal problems:

1. Listen [click to continue…]

The SerialStartups web site has posted an interview that I did with Naomi Tapia.  It’s about some of the things to consider when starting up a new company.

No Surprises, No Rushing

People who have worked with me know that two of my biggest project principles are “No Surprises” and “No Rushing.”

No Surprises
Surprises are a sure sign of inadequate planning. When you do a project you have to anticipate what might go wrong as well as what might go right. Some of the things that can happen have a low probability, but you still have to develop at least a rough idea of what you’ll do when they occur. By planning for these surprises, you’ll eliminate — or at least reduce — the panic that’s human nature when these crazy things happen. Instead, when a “surprise” happens, you’ll just put in motion the contingency plan that you developed in advance.

Can you anticipate every possible surprise? [click to continue…]

There’s been a lot of talk about cloud computing, and mobility has been in the news for years.  But apps and an enterprise app store are going to bring it all together to remake the face of IT.

Cloud Computing
Cloud computing is a method for delivering computing resource.  Its principal attributes are outsourced management, ubiquitous access and elasticity.

  • Outsourced management allows us to obtain the use of software without having to deal with installing it, maintaining it, or managing the associated databases.
  • Ubiquitous access means we can use the Internet to get to our software and data.  Anywhere you can get access to the Internet, you can get access to your cloud computing application.
  • Elasticity means we don’t have to worry about technology sizing.  We don’t have to buy a server that will accommodate our peak demand, which maybe occurs only when the last Friday of a quarter corresponds to a full moon.  Instead, we just use the resource we need, and we pay only for the resource we use.  This is a very fair approach, and CFOs love it.

Mobility
Mobility is one of those things that has snuck up on us.  [click to continue…]

I’ve talked about the changing nature of IT in a previous article, but it’s amazing to me how fast some of the changes are taking place. Ten or twenty years ago the key skills for someone in IT were systems analysis and programming — mostly technical skills. But more recently the need for those skills in a typical IT shop has declined drastically. Now the key skills are project management and system integration — skills which are not nearly so technical.

Changes in the Way We Deal with Food
There’s a parallel to be drawn between IT and the way we get our food in the United States. A couple of hundred years ago we were a nation of farmers. Most people participated in the growing of their own food. They prepared the ground, they planted the seed, they tended the growing plants, and they harvested their food. Only then did they think about cooking and eating the food.

Now the farming process is performed by a small minority of people, mostly operating under the control of a few large corporations. We don’t participate in the growing any more — instead our focus is on shopping and cooking. It’s no longer important for the average person to know how to best prepare a field for a certain crop, to know how to correctly place seeds in the ground and then tend to them to best encourage their growth, or to know how to harvest the resulting crop to avoid damaging the food. Those skills have been outsourced.

Changes in the Way We Deal with Software
Forty years ago there was virtually no packaged software. The IT world was all about systems analysis and programming because everyone had to develop their own software. The IT organization determined business requirements, [click to continue…]

Business literature is full of distinctions that some very smart people make between a manager and a leader:

  • “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” – Peter Drucker
  • “…Leaders are concerned with what things mean to people. Managers are concerned about how things get done.” – Abraham Zaleznik
  • “Leaders are the architects…Managers are the builders.” – John Mariotti
  • “Management is getting people to do what needs to be done. Leadership is getting people to want to do what needs to be done. Managers push. Leaders pull. Managers command. Leaders communicate.” – Warren Bennis
  • “Management is coping with complexity; leadership is coping with change” – John P. Kotter
  • “Leadership focuses on the creation of a common vision … Management is the design of work .. it’s about controlling.” – George Weathersby
  • “Leadership has about it a kinesthetic feel, a sense of movement. Management is about ‘handling’ things, about maintaining order, about organization and control.” – Kouzes and Posner
  • “Leadership is communicating to people their worth and potential so clearly that they come to see it in themselves.” – Stephen Covey
  • “Management is nothing more than motivating other people.” – Lee Iacocca
  • “A great leader has two key qualities. He knows where he wants to go; he’s able to persuade others to go with him.” – Ted Turner
  • “A good manager is best when people barely know that he exists. Not so good when people obey and acclaim him. Worse when they despise him.” – Lao-Tzu
  • “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality.  The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant.” – Max DePree
  • “The first duty of a manager is to translate vision into reality.” – Peter Drucker

But the bottom line is that the distinction between a manager and a leader is all semantics.  No one hires you [click to continue…]

Know what the biggest difference is between an adequate project manager and a great project manager? The great project manager always learns from every project and applies that learning to the next project.

Here’s a simple technique to help you learn from every project too.  After each project completion, before you send the project team members on to other things, get all of the project principals together and have a postmortem review. You can kick around as many ideas as you like during the review, but make sure you answer these two questions:

  1. What did we do right that we want to make sure we do again in the next project?
  2. What could we do better next time?

In each question, the wording is critical.

What did we do right?
Most postmortem project reviews dwell on the negative, but in all of the projects I’ve seen — even the project disasters — there were always a few things that were done right. It’s important to recognize those things because [click to continue…]

One of the biggest surprises to new managers is the intense pressure to keep people working productively. This is especially true in a project environment like IT where employees aren’t doing the same thing day after day. Managing an organization is like being in a taxi with the meter running and only a few dollars in your pocket, except that the meter is burning up hundreds of dollars per hour.

Let’s do a quick, back-of-the envelope calculation. If you have ten people working for you, and if they have an average salary of $70,000 (not an unreasonable number for today’s IT organizations), then you’ve got a payroll of $700,000 per year. Add another 30% for benefits and expenses, and you’ve got a people budget of $910,000. The average worker in the U.S. has at least 4 weeks of holiday, vacation and sick days, so you’ve got no more than 48 weeks worth of actual work time. Divide $910,000 by 48, and your organization has a “burn rate” of about $19,000 per week, about $3800 per day, about $475 per hour, or about $8 per minute.

So think of it this way: Every minute that you hesitate in telling your organization what to do is costing your business $8. Every day of giving your people the wrong work is costing your company $3800. And every week of rework is costing your business $19,000.

Want even more pressure? [click to continue…]

In my last article I talked about why IT magic is never good. Well, I guess I should have known better than to use the word “never.” In his “Thoughts by Techxplorer” blog, one of my readers came up with a pretty good exception: a situation where the thought of IT magic — but not the actual use — can be valuable.

Here’s the situation: Imagine you’re in the early part of a new project doing the initial requirements definition. This particular project is trying to improve the way that a certain business process is being done, so naturally you talk to the people who are carrying out the existing process to get their ideas on improvements. But now you run into “the ditch digger syndrome”: [click to continue…]

I recently spoke at a conference attended by senior business and IT people from accounting firms. I described my usual view on IT Magic: that when Information Technology gets too complex, it’s perceived as magic; then there are lots of problems for IT because business people develop unrealistic expectations. In the Q&A with attendees, one of the audience members asked an interesting question, “Is there ever a situation when IT magic is good?”

In the conversation that followed, [click to continue…]

Here’s the way most people justify automation of a manual process: they replace a high variable labor cost with a relatively fixed system cost.  I’ll illustrate using graphs, then show how cloud computing fits into the picture.

Before: A Manual Labor-Intensive Process
Before any automation, the financials for a manual process look like this:

A manual process offers the business easy control over incremental cost: more volume, more people; less volume, less people.

With a manual process, there’s usually a direct relationship between volume and cost.  If your volume goes up [click to continue…]

A Model of Job Performance

Back in 1979 I put together a model of job performance to help with some process improvements we were doing at Digital Equipment Corporation.  Here’s the model:

I ran across the model when was going through some old papers, and I thought you’d like to see it.  Here’s the explanation of the model that accompanied the diagram: [click to continue…]

I’ve talked a lot about human nature in my articles. I believe that human nature is the biggest challenge to most successful management, and especially the biggest challenge for IT managers.

Information technology is all very logical. Software does exactly what you tell it to do. Computers — for the most part — behave the way we expect them to behave. But people are on the opposite end of the behavior spectrum from software and hardware, and people behavior follows a different set of rules.

Let’s take the BP Gulf oil spill as an example. Putting an oil well in the ocean is an inherently dangerous process. Actually, putting an oil well anywhere is an inherently dangerous process, but [click to continue…]

IT governance has been getting a lot of attention lately in the press. Frankly, it bothers me, since I think that a focus on IT governance is misguided. Four years ago I wrote an article about the difference between management and leadership. In the article I said that:

“… management is like pushing a rope; it works only if you make continuous small adjustments to keep the rope in line. Leadership is like pulling a rope; the parts of the rope that are out of line will automatically align themselves with the direction of motion. When you push a rope you have to focus on the rope; when you pull a rope you focus on the direction in which it’s being pulled.”

In my opinion, the focus on IT governance is a focus on management at the expense of leadership. A lot of IT governance is concerned with [click to continue…]

I’ll be giving the keynote at the 2010 Boomer Technology Circle Summit on August 23rd in Kansas City.  If you’re in the accounting industry, then join me for a two-hour session on “How to Demystify I.T. For Your CEO.”  For more information, go to http://www.boomer.com/?page=btcsummit

A Job
A job is an exchange of work for money: for every hour you work, you get an hour of pay. Although you might derive some satisfaction from doing the job, and you might enjoy the people you work with, the reason you do the job is for the money.  If you win the lottery, the first thing you’ll do is quit your job, because, after all, you’re only doing the job for money anyway.

There’s usually very little advancement within a job. Maybe you’ll get a [click to continue…]

The question about the pros and cons of using a business/IT liaison person came up at a meeting I attended last week. I’ve got to admit some bias on this issue. Long ago I tried using a business/IT liaison person for one of my software development groups, and I wasn’t happy with the result.

The person typically assigned to a liaison job seldom has enough [click to continue…]

A lot of people tend to confuse these two words. We work hard, focus on our goals, and figure that happiness will come once we achieve success. Don’t fall for this deception.

Happiness
Happiness is a feeling. It can be triggered by external factors — a friend, a lover, a place, an event, a food or a drink — but it comes from inside ourselves. We can choose to be happy, even if things around us are chaotic and we’re all alone.

There’s a tendency for some of us to rely on others for our happiness. It’s more likely [click to continue…]

People who complain fall into two categories: those who complain because they want help in resolving a problem, and those who complain because they want sympathy. Often the complainers themselves don’t understand why they’re complaining, so it’s up to you to figure it out for yourself.

The Complainer as Problem Solver
The first category of complainer is easier to deal with. They have a problem and they sincerely want the problem solved. The problem may be simple — “my computer keeps crashing” — or very complex — “children are starving in Africa.” But this first category of complainer isn’t just looking for sympathy — they [click to continue…]

How do you deal with someone who complains — whether it’s a customer of your company, a customer of your department, or even an employee or family member? How do you turn the complainer into a supporter? Here are some steps to take:

1. Listen
If you’re going to make the complaint go away, then first you have to listen to what the complainer has to say. Take notes so the complainer will see that you’re serious. If there is a factual basis to the complaint then get those facts using the old reporter’s list of questions: who, what, where, why, when, how. If there’s no factual basis — it’s just the way the customer “feels” — then try to determine why the customer feels that way.

2. Take Responsibility
If it’s a problem you’ve caused (or your department has caused), then [click to continue…]

Want to deceive people?  Here’s how the professionals do it:

1. Do a survey and use a biased sample population
People focus on the survey result and seldom pay attention to information about your sample population.  So feel free to bias your result by surveying people you know will answer the way you want. Want a survey result that shows a majority of people favoring smoking in public? Just ask smokers. Want a strong statistic showing approval for your new system? Just ask people who you know are on your side.

2. Use biased questions in your survey
Your can further strengthen your survey results by [click to continue…]

ComputerWorld has published an article by Mary Brandel that includes the results of an interview I did with Mary last fall.  The article is entitled “IT centralization is back in fashion.”  You can see the article here.

A lot of people think that the creation of business strategy is a mysterious process — something that’s secretly practiced behind closed doors in the boardroom. There’s a lot of mysticism around strategy setting, and so we avoid it for fear that we’ll do it wrong.

But there’s no magic in strategy — just as there’s no magic in IT. There are only two reasons for strategy: focus and communication. Let’s look at each reason in more detail.

Focus
In management, focus is [click to continue…]

I’ll let you in on a secret: Most companies have used the bad economy as an excuse for laying off people who the company wanted to get rid of anyway. Now I’m not saying that these companies haven’t had financial issues — most companies have experienced a loss of revenue as a result of a decrease in consumer spending. But the truth is that businesses have made enormous productivity gains over the last ten years. Technology — and particularly information technology — has allowed most businesses to do more with less. The number of employees required to run the business and handle day-to-day operations has declined for most businesses. But even though fewer people are needed, most businesses hadn’t taken steps to reduce their labor force until the recession gave them an excuse. There are a lot of reasons that companies were holding on to unnecessary employees:

  • It’s nice to have extra employees around if you anticipate growth.
  • Many managers see the number of employees reporting to them as an ego thing.  [click to continue…]

What Penguins Know about ERP Success

Have you ever watched a nature documentary showing penguins entering the Antarctic ocean? They gather at the edge of the water, hesitating until more penguins arrive. They look at each other as if saying, “Do you want to go first?” or “Are we ready yet?” Then finally the hesitation will end and a large number of penguins will dive into the water together.

The penguins’ hesitation makes sense when you learn about penguin predators.  Seals hunt in those waters, and a single penguin swimming alone has a good chance of becoming seal food. But by waiting until there are significant numbers of penguins before entering the water, the penguins increase their chance of survival. There’s safety in numbers, or at least there’s an increased likelihood that the seal will go after someone else.

ERP
Last week I had dinner with some IT executives who are considering replacing their old systems with a new ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) system. They seemed to be hesitating before making their move, [click to continue…]

You’ve got a bad boss. Maybe it was a surprise — he seemed nice during the interview. Or maybe it was a gift from higher-up in the organization — she was brought in to replace your previous boss. Whatever the reason, now you’re stuck with a bad boss, and you have to do something.

There are basically three approaches to dealing with a bad boss: leave, get rid of the boss, or make the situation better. Here’s more information about each approach:

1. Leave
This seems like the most logical answer, but it’s actually the last alternative that you should consider. The unfortunate fact is that [click to continue…]