November 30, 2009

Leadership: Fight or Flight

When we are confronted with difficult situations, people tend to two different responses: fight or flight.

Generally, people will stand and fight when they are either cornered and have no other option, when they will suffer undue harm if they just try and “let it go”, or when the issue is something that they really believe strongly in (like a principle or value such as equity, justice, righteousness, etc. that they feel is being violated).

In contrast, people typically will flee when they feel that they can get out of a bad situation mostly unscathed and their principles will not be violated (such that they can live with their personal and professional dignity intact). Often, people consider fleeing or a change of venue preferable to “getting into it” when it’s possible to avoid the problems that more direct confrontation can bring.

There is also a third option not typically addressed and that is just “taking it,” and letting it pass. In the martial arts, this is akin to taking someone’s best shot and just absorbing it—and you’re still standing. You go with the flow and let it go. This is sometimes feasible as a less dramatic response and one that produces perhaps less severe consequences (i.e. you avoid a fight and you still yield no ground).

Harvard Business Review (December 2009) in an article called “How to Pick a Good Fight” provides some guidelines on when as a professional you should consider standing up and fighting, as follows:

  1. “Make it Material”—Fight for something you really believe in, something that can create real value, noticeable and sustainable improvement.
  2. Focus on the Future”—Don’t dwell on the past or on things that cannot be changed. Spend most of your time “looking at the road ahead, not in the rearview mirror.”[This is actually the opposite of what 85% of leaders do, which is trying to figure out what went wrong and who to blame.”
  3. Pursue a Noble Purpose”—Make the fight about improving people’s lives or changing the world for the better.” I’d put it this way: stay away from selfish or egotistical fights, turf battles, empire building, and general mud slinging.

“The biggest predictor of poor company performance is complacency.” So leaders need to focus “the good fight” on what’s possible, what’s compelling, and what’s high impact. Great leaders shake things up when the fight is right and create an environment of continuous improvement. Leaders create the vision, inspire the troops, and together move the organization forward to greater and greater heights.

As for fleeing or “turning the other cheek” those venues are best left for issues of lesser consequence, for keeping the peace, or for times when you are simply better off taking up the good fight another day.


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November 29, 2009

A Young Adult Chooses To Give Rather Than Take

Here is a poem written by a young adult who was recently confronted
with a difficult choice - whether to go on a fancy trip to Europe or
Peru, costing thousands of dollars but promising "the time of your
life," or to spend a week participating in a Habitat for Humanity
project, and giving back to those in need.

I am humbled and inspired by her words and her choice.

In terms of tikkun olam (repair of the world - a Jewish term for an
individual's purpose in life), this is a great lens with which to view
many of the choices we have day in and day out. Our investments in
people and those less fortunate are often the best ones that we can
make - and those with the highest return, personally and for the
organizations we represent.

_____________________

"What is a Good Feeling?"

A dream maybe that looks me in the eye,

I try to catch it but it just flies by,

A short second ago there was my chance,

I was even just about ready to dance.

The question is always asked: why not me?!

Why can’t I be lucky!

The sun, the moon, the stars,

Waken me up oh mars.

Shine that light on me,

Guide me to what is happy,

Pearl, silver, and even gold,

It’s now time to think beyond what is displayed and told.

Look beyond the light,

Into the darkness of the night,

Like others, it is even hard for me,

When I even dare to see reality.

The million-dollar beach home,

The shape of a dome,

An in-door pool,

Oh how mighty and cool.

Pshh, ya right!

Just look at MOST people’s plight,

People losing jobs here and there,

This is in no way fair.

Millions of citizens living on the streets,

On disgusting benches supposed to be used just for seats,

It’s time to wake up and see,

People don’t live all rich and fancy.

It’s time to open our eyes,

We shouldn’t live lies,

I want to step closer to reality,

I’m at the right age to learn more about actuality.

I want to help others,

I want to give to families: fathers, mothers, sisters, and brothers

I want to put smiles on children’s faces,

I want to leave some of my traces.

Traces of charity,

What a rarity,

I want to be one who gives and not takes,

For once in my life I am positive that this won’t be a mistake.

This choice is the right,

And I say this with all force and might,

It’s without doubt a chance to make a difference,

This surely makes the most sense.

~THERE IS NOTHING LIKE THE GOOD FEELING OF ASSISTING OTHERS~


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November 27, 2009

Right In Front of Us, but We Are Blind to It

Last week, there was a 13-year-old boy, with Asperger’s syndrome, who ran away from home and rode away in the NYC subway system for 11 days undetected!!!

The boy went missing with $11 dollars in his pocket. “According to CNN, the boy's mother says he survived on fast food and candy he purchased in the subway system. He spent the majority of his time riding the trains. He wore the same clothes for the duration and lived underground, sleeping in subway cars and using underground restrooms.”

Many people were out looking for this boy, including the police, but neither the searchers nor the extensive surveillance apparatus in New York picked him out. Apparently, no one on the trains reported seeing this kid riding endlessly around 24x7, and the boy was invisible to the myriad of hardworking transit workers and officers who are all over the transit system, until day 11 when finally one officer recognized the boy from his missing picture.

How can a boy be there for almost two weeks, but be seemingly invisible to the thousands of riders and workers passing thru the subway system and what can this teach us about leadership and organizations?

Information Overload—This is truly the information age. We have morphed from not having enough information to being flooded with it and not being able to process it. With the missing boy on the NYC MTA subway system, he was literally lost amidst the more than 5 million riders a day and 468 stations. This is a common situation these days where we have access to stores of information, on databases and through the Internet, yet we frequently struggle to find the golden nuggets of information that really mean something. Post 9-11, our military and intelligence communities are being flooded by sensor information from a vast network of resources, and the challenge now is to find innovative ways to process it quickly and effectively—to find the proverbial “needle in the haystack” and to stop the next potential attack. Our organizations in the public and private sectors need faster, more accurate, and finely tuned systems to find the dots, connect the dots, and see the picture.

Process Matters—According to Digital Journal, “the disappearance was reported to police immediately, who treated it as a runaway. After five days had passed, it was being treated as a missing persons case.” The police were following their processes in handling this little boy, but it resulted in five days passing without the assumed more intense search that occurs with a missing persons case. Lesson to note is that having standardized, documented business processes are important in efficiently managing operations, but we should not get so caught up in the process that we become rigid and inflexible in handling cases according to the specific situation. While I am not an expert in this, the question does come to mind, whether the search for a child with a known disability may have been escalated/elevated sooner? And the point, I am really trying to make is that we need to keep our organizations and processes agile and responsive so that we can act meaningfully and in time.

Break through the Apathy—Having been a former New Yorker (and I suppose, it never truly leaves your blood), I am well aware of the accusations and jokes made about rudeness and apathy from people in the “city that never sleeps.” NY is a tough town, no doubt. The people are quick and sharp. They work and play hard. They are good, productive people. But living in a city with 8.3 million people in one of the most dense urban centers of the world can take a toll. Even with major clean-up efforts in recent years, NYC still has its fair share of crowding, pollution, and crime and this can take a toll on even the best people. I remember daily sights of panhandling, poor and ill people, aggressiveness not limited to the yellow cabbies. I suppose, one disabled boy could get lost amidst the city chaos, but the challenge is to break through the apathy or callousness that can easily overtake people and continue to care for each and every person that needs our help. This is no small challenge in a city with a 21.2% poverty rate (US Census Bureau 1999), let along in a world where 1 in 4 (or 1.3 billion persons) live on less than $1 a day. As leaders, we need to push for caring over apathy and for seeing and acting versus blinding ourselves to the pain and misfortune of others.

Could we have found this little boy sooner? Maybe. Could it have ended a lot worse? For sure.

While this missing persons situation is now over, we need to prepare ourselves for future events and contingencies. We can do this by continuing to create better systems and mechanisms to process information better, faster, and cheaper—it’s not longer just the quantity of information, but the quality and it’s timeliness and relevance; by reengineering our business processes so that we are alert, nimble and responsive—rigid processes lead to hard and fast rules that serve no one; and building camaraderie with one another—seeing that we are more the same, than we are different—and that everyone matters—even a kid underground in a subway system spanning 656 long and winding miles.

And lest anybody think I’m giving New Yorkers a hard time, believe me when I say – it is “the city” that has given me the street smarts to navigate the Beltway and challenge anyone who says that something can’t be done!


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November 22, 2009

Personal Technology Trumps Work IT

The pendulum has definitely swung—our personal and home technology is now often better than what we are using in the office.

It wasn’t always that way. Early on, technology was mysterious to those not professionally engaged as system engineers or IT professionals. Technology was expensive and made sense for business purposes, but not for home use. IT was a professional enabler to get the job done, but consumer applications were scarce and not intuitive for anything but the office.

The world has turned upside down. Now as consumers, we are using the latest and greatest computers, smart phones, gaming devices, and software applications, including everything social media and e-Commerce, while in the office, we are running old operating systems, have nerdy phones, locked down computers, applications that aren’t web-enabled, and social media that is often blocked.

The Wall Street Journal (16 November 2009) summed up the situation this way:

“At the office, you’ve got a sluggish computer running aging software, and the email system routinely badgers you to delete message after you blow through the storage limits set by your IT department. Searching your company’s internal website feels like being transported back to the pre-Google era of irrelevant results…This is the double life many people lead: yesterday’s technology for work, today’s technology for everything else…The past decade has brought awesome innovations to the marketplace--Internet search, the iPhone, Twitter, and so on, but consumers, not companies, embrace them first and with the most gusto.”

What gives and why are we somehow loosing our technical edge in the workplace?

Rapid Pace of Change—We have been on technological tear for the last 20 years now; virtually nothing is the same—from the Internet to cloud computing, from cell phones and pagers to smart phones and iPhones, from email to social media, and so much more. From a consumer perspective, we are enamored with the latest gadgets and capabilities to make our life easier and more enjoyable though technology. But at work, executives are tiring from the pace of technological change and the large IT budgets that are needed to keep up with the Jones. This is especially the case, as financial markets have seized in the last few years, credit has tightened, revenue and profitability has been under extreme pressure, and many companies have laid off employees and others have even gone kaput.

Magnificent Technology Failures—Along with the rapid pace of change, has come huge IT project failure rates. The Standish group reported this year that 82% of IT projects are failing or seriously challenged. Why in the world would corporate executives want to invest more money, when their past and present IT investments have been flushed down the toilet? Executives have lost faith in IT’s ability to upgrade their legacy systems and fulfill the promises behind the slew of IT investments already made. Related to this is the question of true cost-benefit and total cost of ownership of all the new technologies and their associated investments—if we haven’t been able to achieve or show the return on investment on all the prior investments, why should we continue investing and investing? Is the payoff really there? Perhaps, we are better off putting the dollars into meeting core mission requirements and not overhead, like IT?

Security Risks Abound—With all the technology has come a whole new organizational risk set in terms of IT security. Organizations are hostage to cyber criminals, terrorists, and hostile nation states who can with a few keyboard strokes or mouse clicks disable the company transaction capability, wipe out its memory, steal its information, or otherwise neutralize it from functioning. And the more technology we add, the more the risk level seems to increase. For example, the thinking goes that we were safer when we ran everything in a locked down, tightly controlled, mainframe environment. The more we push the envelope on this and have moved to client server, the web, and now to even more transparency, information sharing, and collaboration—through social media, cloud computing, and World 2.0—the thinking is that we are potentially more open to local and global threats than ever before. Further, with the nation under virtually constant cyberattack and our capabilities to slow or stop these attacks seemingly not existent at this time, executives are reluctant to open up the technology vulnerability spigot any further.

While there are many other reasons slowing or impeding our technology adoption at work, we cannot stop our march of IT advancement and progress.

We are in a global competitive marketplace and the world waits for no one. The problems resulting from the speed and cost of change, the high IT project failure-rate, and the cybersecurity danger/challenges cannot be allowed to inhibit us from progress. We must address these issues head on: We have got to achieve efficiencies from technological advancement and plow the cost-savings into next generation technologies. We have got to drastically improve our IT project success rate though mature implementations of enterprise architecture, IT governance, project management, customer relationship management, and performance measurement (Reference: The CIO Support Services Framework). And we must invest heavily in IT security—with money, people, policy, training, new technology safeguards, and more.

Innovation, technological prowess, and information superiority is what gives us our edge—it is tip of our spear. So yes, we must carefully plan/architect, wisely invest, execute well, and secure our IT. But no, we cannot dismiss the evolving technologies outright nor jump in without proper controls. We must move rationally, but determined into the future.


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November 21, 2009

Learning from Steve Jobs, CEO of the Decade

Fortune Magazine (23 November 2009) named Steve Jobs of Apple, the CEO of the decade.

Steve Jobs’ unveiled his “digital lifestyle” strategy in 2000 when Apple was worth about $5 billion. Now almost a decade later, Apple is worth about $170 billion—slightly more than Google. Apple has revolutionized the markets for music, movies, mobile telephones, as well as computing.

Steve Jobs embodies User-centric leadership in every way:

Customer is #1—Apple’s products satisfy customers. “He may not pay attention to customer research, but he works slavishly to make products customers will buy.” There is intuitiveness to Steve Jobs’ understanding of people and technology. He knows what customers want even if they don’t or can’t articulate it and he designs the technology around the customer. Think iPhone, iPod, and Mac—they are some of the easiest and most customer friendly technologies out there; hence 100,000 applications for the iPhone, 73% of the MP3 player market, and some of the best PCs on the market today.

Innovation is key—Apple is consistently ahead of the curve. Their products are leaders, not follower-copycats. Despite losing the PC wars to Microsoft Windows, the Mac operating system, functionality, and design has been the one setting the standard for ease of use, speed, and security. The iTunes/iPod completely upended the music and movie industry, and the iPhone is the envy of just about every professional and consumer out there who doesn’t yet own one.

Holistic Solutions Delivery—Steve Jobs delivers a comprehensive solution’s architecture for the customer, and it shows with his merging of hardware, software, and service solutions. For example, “over the course of 2001…Apple launched iTunes music software (in January), the Mac OS X operating system (March), the first Apple retail stores (May), and the first iPod (November).” In 2002, Jobs told Time, “We’re the only company that owns the whole widget—the hardware, the software, and the operating system. We take full responsibility for the customer experience.”

Design Genius—The design of Apple’s products are sheer genius. They are sleek, elegant, compact, mobile, yet user-friendly—they are timeless, and pieces such as the G4 Cube have actually been showcased in The Museum of Modern Art and The Digital Design Museum. Even the Apple store in Manhattan with its winding glass staircases and cube entrance is a tourist destination in NYC.

Big Picture, Little Picture—Jobs is a master of balancing the strategic and tactical aspects of product execution. Jobs set the vision, but is also involved in the execution. “He’s involved in details you wouldn’t think a CEO would be involved in.” Apple is his passion and his desire for virtual perfection comes across the spectrum of both product and service from the company.

Mastery of the Message—he rehearses over and over every line he and others utter in public about Apple.” And it’s not only the contents of the message, but also the timing. Jobs knows how to keep a product launch secret until just the right moment. MacWorld, for example, has been used to strategically communicate the launch of new products, and this has kept both Apple fans and competitors closely tuned to these events.

Steve Jobs is a true model of leadership excellence due in no small measure to his relentless pursuit comprehensive product solutions based on innovation, design excellence, and customer service excellence.

Great Jobs!


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November 15, 2009

Cloud Computing, The Next Evolution

On November 4-5 2009, I attended a good CSC Leading Edge Forum on Cloud Computing.

The kickoff by W. Brain Arthur was a highlight for me (he is the author of The Nature of Technology). He provided an excellent conceptualization of cloud and it’s place in overall technology advancement and body of world innovation. Essentially, he sees cloud in the 2000’s as the next evolution from the Internet in the 1990s. As such, the cloud is computational power in the “virtual world,” providing a host of benefits including easy access, connectivity, and cost efficiency. He sees the cloud coming out of the initial frenzy and into a industry sort-out that will result in a stable build out.

Another great speaker was David Moschelle from CSC who talked about the myriad benefits of moving to cloud such as scalability, self-service, pay as you go, agility, and ability to assemble and disassemble needed components virtually on the fly. With the cloud, we no longer have to own the computing means of production.

Of course, we also talked about the challenges, particularly security. Another speaker also spoke about the latency issues on the WAN with cloud, which currently limits some usability for transactional processing.

Over the course of the forum numerous examples of success were given including Bechtel achieving a 90% cost advantage by moving storage to the cloud. Others, such as Amazon were able to put up new web sites in 3 weeks versus 4-6 months previously. Also, Educational Testing Service as another example is using cloud bursting, since they tend to run data center at known cyclical peaks.

Others connected cloud with social computing: “the future of business is collaboration, the future of collaboration is in the cloud.”

In terms of the major types of cloud, I thought the relationship between responsibility and control was interesting. For example:

  • Software as a Service -- more “freedom” from responsibility for service, but less freedom to change service (i.e. less control)
  • Platform as a Service – (Hybrid)
  • Infrastructure as a Service – less freedom from responsibility for actual end-user services, more freedom to change service provision (i.e. more control)

In all cases, the examples demonstrated that organizations do not have a lot of leeway with SLAs with cloud providers. It’s pretty much a take it or leave it proposition. With liability to the vendor for an outage being limited to basically the cost of the service, not the cost of lost business or organizational downtime. However, it was noted that these mega-vendors providing cloud services probably have a better availability and security than it’s customers could have on their own. In other words, an outage or security breach will either way cost, and where is there a greater chance of this happening?

Sort of a good summary was this: “Leading companies are moving development/test and disaster recovery to the cloud,” but then this will reverse and companies will actually move their production in the cloud and provide mainly a back up and recovery capability in house. This is similar to how we handle energy now, were we get our electricity from the utilities, but have a back-up generator should the lights go dark.


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November 14, 2009

Delivering Obsolete and Broken IT Projects, No More

NextGov reported on 9 Nov 2009, that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report that “forecasts $3 billion in cost overruns on 16 major projects.”

What’s so of baffling is that these overruns occurred despite the agency’s use of earned value management.

According to Dave Powner, director of IT management issues at GAO, “Every one of the agencies had major problems in determining earned value management…as a result the agencies were unable to accurately identify the progress contractors had made on IT projects.”

These finding are expected to drive the 2009 Information Technology Oversight and Waste Prevention Act to increase oversight of IT investments.

This bill calls for “a Web site to publish information on the status of federal IT investments, similar to the Federal IT Dashboard,” but with more accurate data and with explanations on why projects are over budget.

Certainly, the use of measurements and dashboards to display and track these are helpful in understanding how we are doing in managing our IT investments—so they are on schedule, within budget, and to customer specification.

Clearly, we can only begin to better manage that which we measure and track. Our IT investments and their execution are no longer a black box or so it’s supposed to work.

However, to make these metrics and dashboard effective to improve IT execution, there are a number of critical success factors:

  1. Transparency—This is a concept that is in common use these days, and we need to continue to put it in action. All IT investments need to be measured, not just the “major” ones, and their success and failures need to be visible. The purpose must not to scrutinize or shame project managers, but to be able to genuinely guide projects to successful conclusions. This is what the control phase of capital planning and investment control is all about. We need to course correct projects early and often, if necessary, before they are billions of dollars out of control.
  2. Honesty in Reporting—Projects need to be reported accurately—no gaming the system. If the facts are sugarcoated or whitewashed, then no dashboard in the world is going to catch the problems that are misreported to begin with. Unfortunately with project management, the elements of scope, schedule, and cost can be manipulated to make it seem as if a project is okay, when it isn’t. One example is de-scoping the project to enable a delivery on schedule and on cost, even though what’s being delivered is not what was asked for or agreed upon.
  3. Skills Enhancement—With better measurement of IT investments, we need to provide more training to our project managers. We can’t just expect perfection day 1. We need to work with people and grow them to be better project managers. We can do this with training, mentoring, coaching, and so on. Remember, it’s generally the people that make the IT project a success or failure, not the technology—so let’s invest in our people to make them better project managers.
  4. Accountability—We shouldn’t be looking to exact a pound of flesh for genuine human foibles—mistakes do happen. But at the same time, people must be held accountable for fraud, waste, and abuse. Sometimes, people get complacent and they need a reminder that there are real implications to an IT project’s success or failure—mission and people are depending on you to do your job, so you had better do it responsibly and to the best of your ability.
  5. Continuous Improvement—Ever since business school, I’ve always loved the Japanese management practice of Kaizen—continuous improvement. This concept is right on the mark with our IT investment and project execution. We are not going to magically put up a dashboard and whoola—better IT projects. It’s going to be a process, a transformation over time. We need to incrementally improve our IT project success rate through learning measurement, and best practices implementation. Of course, time is money, and we need to move quickly, but we do not want to artificially create the appearance of short-term performance improvement at the expense of genuine long-term success.

All the power to IT performance measurement and dashboarding, but with the absolute commitment to not only track and measure, but also grow and improve our customer results. It’s not a gotcha that we need, but a how can we help you succeed.


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November 13, 2009

Breaking the Organization Free of Dysfunction

Recently, I read this amazing poem called "Autobiography in Five Short Chapters" by Portia Nelson (see below).

It's about the learning and healing process. It can apply to individuals as well as organizations.

It's about learning from our mistakes, growing from them and changing accordingly. This is one of the purposes of life.

All too often, we get stuck in a misguided way of thinking, a "bad" behavior, or in the case of an organization--a dysfunctional status quo.

But it is possible to break harmful paradigms and to change for the better.

Dysfunction is as much about habit and accepting the status quo as it is about the challenge of change.

But growing beyond the dysfunction is possible and rewarding.

Here are five lessons for organizational leaders from this poem:

  1. Change is hard
  2. Change is possible
  3. Change is growth
  4. Change is incremental
  5. Change is healthy

And one for "good luck"...We don't change for change's sake, but to literally avoid the pitfalls that can sink us.

____________________________________

AUTOBIOGRAPHY IN FIVE SHORT CHAPTERS

By Portia Nelson

I

I walk down the street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk I fall in. I am lost ... I am helpless. It isn't my fault. It takes me forever to find a way out.

II

I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I pretend I don't see it. I fall in again. I can't believe I am in the same place but, it isn't my fault. It still takes a long time to get out.

III

I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I see it is there. I still fall in ... it's a habit. my eyes are open I know where I am. It is my fault. I get out immediately.

IV

I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I walk around it.

V

I walk down another street.


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November 10, 2009

Supercapitalism and Enterprise Architecture

As a nation are we overworked? Are we just showing up, doing what we're told, and making the same mistakes again and again?

Robert Reich, the former Labor Secretary and Professor at University of California at Berkeley, says that we are more than ever a nation of workaholics.

Reich’s book, Supercapitalism, talks about how we have to work harder to make ends meet for the following reasons:

  • Globalization—“our real incomes are under assault from technology and low-wage workers in other countries.”
  • Greater competition—“all barriers to entry have fallen, competition is more intense than ever, and if we don’t work hard, we may be in danger of losing clients, customers, or investors.”
  • Rapid pace of change—“today most people have no ability to predict what they’re going to be doing from year to year, and job descriptions are not worth the paper they’re written on because jobs are changing so fast.”

Reich says to temper our workaholic lifestyles, we need to “understand that the quality of work is much more important than the quantity.” Honestly, that doesn’t seem to answer the question, since quality (not just quantity) takes hard work and a lot of time too.

In terms of supercharged programs, I have seen enterprise architecture programs working "fast and furious," others that were steady, and still some that were just slow and sometimes to the point of "all stop" in terms of any productivity or forward momentum.

Unlike IT operations that have to keep the lights on, the servers humming, and phones working, EA tends to be considered all too often as pure “overhead” that can be cut at the slightest whim of budget hawks. This can be a huge strategic mistake for CIOs and organizational leaders who thus behave in a penny-wise and dollar foolish manner. Sure, operations keep the lights on, but EA ensures that IT investments are planned, strategically aligned, compliant, technically sound, and cost-effective.

A solid EA program takes us out of the day-to-day firefighting mode and operational morass, and puts the CIO and business leaders back in the strategic "driver's seat" for transforming and modernizating the organization.

In fact, enterprise architecture addresses the very concerns that Reich points to in our Supercapitalistic times: To address the big issues of globalization, competition, and the rapid pace of change, we need genuine planning and governance, not just knee jerk reactions and firefighting. Big, important, high impact problems generally don't get solved by themselves, but rather they need high-level attention, innovative thinking, and group problem solving, and general committment and resources to make headway. This means we can't just focus on the daily grind. We need to extricate ourselves and think beyond today. And that's exactly what real enterprise architecture is all about.

Recently, I heard some colleagues at a IT conference say that EA was all bluster and wasn't worth the work and investment. I strongly disagree. Perhaps, a poorly implemented architecture program may not be worth the paper it's plans are printed on. And unfortunately, there are too many of these faux enterprise architecture programs around and these give the rest a bad rap. However, a genuine user-centric enterprise architecture and IT governance program is invaluable in keeping the IT organization from running on a diet of daily chaos: not a good thing for the mission and business that IT supports.

Organizations can and will work smarter, rather than just harder, with strong enterprise architecture, sound IT governance, and sound business and IT processes. It the nature of planning ahead rather than just hoping for the best.


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November 8, 2009

Building High Performance Teams

At work, there is almost no greater feeling than being part of a high-performing team, and no worse than being part of a dysfunctional one.

Teams are not, by definition, destined to succeed. In fact more often then not, they will fail unless they have the right mix of people, purpose, process, commitment, training, and of course, leadership—along with the time for it all to jell.

I remember being on a team in one special law enforcement agency that had the “right mix.” The project was both very successful and was written up as a case study, and everything in the project was really fulfilling personally and professionally: from gathering around the whiteboard for creative strategy sessions to the execution of each phase of the project. Now, that is not to say that there were not challenges on the project and on the team—there always are—or you are probably just dreaming rather than really in the office working. But the overall, in the experience, the health of the team was conducive to doing some really cool stuff. When the team is healthy and the project successful, you feel good about getting up in the morning and going to work—an almost priceless experience.

Unfortunately, this team experience was probably more the exception than the rule—as many teams are dysfunctional for one or more reasons. In fact, at the positive team experience that I was described above, my boss used to say, “the stars are all aligned for us.”

The challenge of putting together high-performance teams is described in Harvard Business Review, May 2009, in an article, “Why Teams Don’t Work,” by Diane Coutu.

She states: “Research consistently shows that teams underperform their potential.”

But Coutu explains that this phenomenon of underperformance by teams can be overcome, by following “five basic conditions” as described in “Leading Teams” by J. Richard Hackman (the descriptions of these are my thoughts):

“Teams must be real”—you need the right mix of people: who’s in and who’s out.

“Compelling direction”—teams need a clear purpose: “what they’re supposed to be doing” and is it meaningful.

“Enabling structures”—teams need process: how are things going to get done and by whom.

“Supportive organization”—teams need the commitment of the organization and its leadership: who is championing and sponsoring the team.

“Expert coaching”—you need training: how teams are supposed to behave and produce.

While leadership is not called out specifically, to me it is the “secret sauce” or the glue that holds all the other team enablers together. The skilled leader knows who to put on the team, how to motivate its members to want to succeed, how to structure the group to be productive and effective, how to build and maintain commitment, and how to coach, counsel, mentor, and ensure adequate training and tools for the team members.

One other critical element that Coutu spells out is courage. Team leaders and members need to have the courage to innovate, “ask difficult questions,” to counter various forms of active or passive resistance, and to experiment.

In short, harnessing the strength of a team means bringing out the best in everyone, making sure that the strengths and weaknesses of the individuals offset each other—there is true synergy in working together. In failing teams, everyone might as well stay home. In high-performance teams, the whole team is greater than the sum of its individual members.


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November 7, 2009

A Vision of User-centric Communication Design

[Authored by Andy Blumenthal and published in Architecture and Governance Magazine November 2009]

As technology has advanced in leaps and bounds over the last 30 years, so has the number of information devices—from phones to faxes, pagers to PDAs, desktops to Netbooks—and it goes on and on.

Some devices, despite having outlived their useful lives, have been slow to disappear from the scene completely. For example, fax machines are still in our offices and homes, although now often combined with other de- vices such as the “all-in-one” copier, printer, scanner, and fax. However, why with the ability to scan and e-mail with attachments, do we even need to fax at all anymore?

Similarly, at one time, pagers were all the rave to reach someone 911. Then cell phones and PDAs took over the scene. Nevertheless, paging never fully went away; instead, it was replaced by “press 1 to send this per- son a page.” However, why do we need to page them at all anymore, if we can just leave them a voice mail or instant message?

It seems as if legacy technology often just doesn’t want to die, and instead of sun-setting it, we just keep packaging it into the next device, like the phone that comes with e-mail, instant messaging, texting, and more. How many ways do we need to say hello, how are you, and what time will you be home for dinner?

When is technology enough and when is it too much?

Of course, we want and love choice—heck, we’re consumers to the core. Technology choice is like having the perfect outfit for every occasion; we like to have the “right” technology to reach out to others in a myriad of different ways for every occasion.

Should I send you an e-mail on Facebook or should I “poke” you or perhaps we should just chat? Or maybe I should just send you a Tweet or a “direct message” on Twitter? No, better yet, why don’t I send you a message on LinkedIn? Anyway, I could go on for about another three paragraphs at least on how I should/could contact you. Maybe I’ll hit you up on all of them at the same time and drive you a little nuts, or maybe I’ll vary the communications to appear oh so technically versatile and fashionable.

Yes, technology choice is a wonderful thing. But it comes at a price. First, all the communication mediums

start to become costly after a while. I can tell you from my cell phone bill that the cost of all these options— e-mail, texting, Internet, and so on—definitely starts to add up. And don’t forget all the devices that we have to schlep around on our belts (I have one cell phone on each side—it’s so cool, like a gunslinger from the Wild West), pockets, and bags—where did I leave that de- vice? Let’s not forget the energy consumption and eco- unfriendliness of all these gadgets and all the messy wires.

Additionally, from a time-is-precious perspective, consider the time sinkhole we have dug for ourselves by trying to maintain a presence on all of these devices and social networking sites. How many hours have we spent trying to keep up and check them all (I’m not sure I can fully remember all my e-mail accounts anymore)? And if you don’t have single sign-on, then all the more hassle— by the way, where did I hide my list of passwords?

Next out of the gate is unified communications. Let’s interoperate all those voice mail accounts, e-mail ac- counts, IM, presence, and social media communications. Not only will your phone numbers ring to one master, but also your phone will transcribe your voice mails— i.e., you can read your voice mail. Conversely, you can listen to your e-mail with text-to-speech capability. We can run voice-over-IP to cut the traditional phone bill and speed up communications, and we can share nonreal-time communications such as e-mail and voice mail with real-time communication systems like our phone.

So, we continue to integrate different communication mediums, but still are not coalescing around a basic device. I believe the “communicator” on Star-Trek was a single device to get to someone on the Enterprise or on the planet surface with just the tap of a finger. Perhaps, our reality will some day be simpler and more efficient, too. When we tire of playing with our oodles of technology “toys” and signing up for myriad user accounts, we will choose eloquence and simplicity over disjointed—or even unified—communications.

As the founder of User-centric Enterprise Architecture, my vision is to have one communicator (“1C”) device, period. 1C is an intelligent device. “Contact John,” okay—no phone number to dial and no e-mail to address. 1C knows who John is, how to reach him, the best way to contact him, and if he is available (“present”) at the moment or not. 1C can take a message, leave a message, or communicate in any way (voice, text, video, virtual) that an individual prefers and that is appropriate for each portion of a particular communication to ensure that the communication intended is the communication received. 1C is not limited to a one-on-one communications, but is open to conferencing—as needed. Mention the need for Cindy to be in on the communication and instantaneously, Cindy is on and then off again. 1C is ubiquitous in time and space—I can send you a communication to arrive now or next week, when you’re here or there, when you’re in country or out, in a car, on a flight, on a ship, or underwater—it doesn’t matter. Like telepathy, the communication reaches you effortlessly. And, of course, 1C translates languages, dialects, acronyms, or concepts, as needed—truly it’s a “universal communicator.”

The closest we’ve come so far is probably the Apple iPhone, but with some 50,000 apps and counting, it is again too focused on the application or technology to be used, rather than on the user and the need.

In the end, it’s not how many devices or how many accounts or how many mediums we have to communicate with, but it is the communication itself that must be the focus. The 1C of the future is an enabler for the communication—anytime, anywhere, the right information to the right people. The how shouldn’t be a concern for the user, only the what.


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November 1, 2009

Decoding Decision-Making

Decision-making is something we have to do every day as individuals and as organizations, yet often we end up making some very bad decisions and thus some costly mistakes.

Improving the decision-making process is critical to keeping us safe, sound, and stably advancing toward the achievement of our goals.

All too often decisions are made based on gut, intuition, politics, and subjective management whim. This is almost as good as flipping a coin or rolling a pair of dice.

Disciplines such as enterprise architecture planning and governance attempt to improve on the decision-making process by establishing a strategic roadmap and then guiding the organization toward the target architecture through governance boards that vet and validate decisions based on return on investment, risk mitigation, alignment to strategic business goals, and compliance to technical standards and architecture.

In essence, decisions are taken out of the realm of the “I think” or “I feel” phenomenon and into the order of larger group analysis and toward true information-based decision-making.

While no decision process is perfect, the mere presence of an orderly process with “quality gates” and gatekeepers helps to mitigate reckless decisions.

“Make Better Decisions,” an article in Harvard Business Review (HBR), November 2009, states, “In recent years, decision makers in both the public and private sectors have made an astounding number of poor calls.”

This is attributed to two major drivers:

Individuals going it alone: “Decisions have generally been viewed as the prerogative of individuals-usually senior executives. The process employed, the information used, the logic relied on, have been left up to them, in something of a black box. Information goes in [quantity and quality vary], decisions come out—and who knows what happens in between.”

A non-structured decision-making processes: “Decision-making has rarely been the focus of systematic analysis inside the firm. Very few organizations have ‘reengineered’ the decision. Yet there are just as many opportunities to improve decision making as to improve other processes.”

The article’s author, Thomas Davenport, who has a forthcoming book on decision-making, proposes four steps (four I’s) organizations can take to improve this process:

Identification—What decision needs to be made and which are most important?

Inventory—What are the factors or attributes for making each decision?

Intervention—What is the process, roles, and systems for decision-making?

Institutionalization—How do we establish sound decision-making ongoingly through training, measurement, and process improvement?

He acknowledges that “better processes won’t guarantee better decisions, of course, but they can make them more likely.”

It is interesting that Davenport’s business management approach is so closely aligned with IT management best practices such as enterprise architecture and capital planning and investment control (CPIC). Is shows that the two disciplines are in sync and moving together toward optimized decision-making.

One other point I’d like to make is that even with the best processes and intentions, organizations may stumble when it comes to decision making because they fail into various decision traps based on things like: groupthink, silo-thinking and turf battles, analysis paralysis, autocratic leadership, cultures where employees fear making mistakes or where innovation is discouraged or even frowned upon, and various other dysfunctional impediments to sound decision-making.

Each of these areas could easily be a discourse in and of themselves. The point however is that getting to better decision-making is not a simple thing that can be achieved through articulating a new processes or standing up a new governance board alone.

We cannot delegate good decision-making or write a cursory business case and voila the decision is a good one. Rather optimizing decision-making processes is an ongoing endeavor and not a one-time event. It requires genuine commitment, participation, transparency, and plenty of information sharing and collaboration across the enterprise.


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