April 28, 2013 11:01 AM
Posted by: David Scott
, IT burnout
, IT certs
, IT department
, IT discipline
, IT education
, IT effectiveness
, IT evaluation
, IT excellence
, IT experience
, IT job descriptions
, IT leadership
, IT policy
, IT position descriptions
, IT positions
, IT promotion
, IT qualification
, IT reputation
, IT risk
, IT staff
, IT standards
, IT training
, people management
, performance review
, personnel management
A colleague entered a new position as Director of Information Technology. A prestigious association in the Washington, DC Metro area – the specific city will remain nameless.
The association had their own building. He had a corner office on the top floor – wall-to-wall windows on two sides that were nearly floor-to-ceiling, with a great view. Nice big conference table right in his office. The kitchen was a couple floors down, but, hey, maybe they could move that.
Anyway, everything’s rosy, right? Lots of challenges, but we always have those in IT: The association management system (AMS) was on the cusp of a major upgrade (huge – the vendor was even completely re-titling the product), and there were some staff currency/training issues. Ah, those are routine – always someone who needs this class or that, or a boot to get current.
But over the first weeks and months he discovered something very bad: The “senior” programmer… um… didn’t do anything. I mean, she didn’t do anything… IT related. Oh, she had her routine. She floated around the building, making her rounds and chatting. She attended meetings. She contributed in the sense that she always had an opinion – generally not worth anything, but she liked to sound officious.
What was happening was that she passed any work that came to her, to a junior programmer – always the same guy. This man was very milquetoast, and didn’t speak up. He was overloaded, but he suffered on, afraid to speak up. How long had this been going on? My colleague couldn’t know, but he knew that the senior programmer’s skills had completely atrophied to the point where she literally couldn’t contribute in the modern environment.
The IT Director did what any responsible supervisor would do: He counseled the senior programmer. He directed her to schedule herself for training. When she didn’t, he selected an initial course, and directly told her to enroll in it. She didn’t. He then talked to his boss about things, and was told to “handle it.” Next step?
The timing yielded an opportunity to document things in a formal review – it was due. He drafted things very carefully, and overall, the review was quite accurate – but generally negative. It had to be if it was going to be a true review. He was directed by the Deputy Executive Director of the organization (the #2 person) to re-write it. He did so under protest. It still had a mild version of the need for training, and stepping up, and making a more robust contribution. But it really wasn’t motivating. She did not change.
Why change? She had political cover, as it turns out, in the organization. It also turned out that she had wanted the IT Director position. She felt it was her due, and that she had been denied.
After enough time had passed to make his resume look good, my colleague left the organization – for a better org, a better position, and a better salary.
Meantime, the organization suffered a situation whereby their in-house programmers could not keep up with the AMS, its mods, and its progressions. The org also lagged in its infrastructure upgrades. The Network Manager, a great asset, left and was replaced with a lesser person. Other quality personnel left, women and men of character and quality,who were difficult to replace…
Their IT shop is now pretty lousy. It’s propped up with expensive outside counsel and support players.
One bad apple can spoil the whole bunch. To the senior executive class, directors, managers, supervisors: Rate fairly, accurately, and ferret out those who do not serve.
Lead by example, and hold those you rate accountable. Praise and promote those who are due.
Maintaining and balancing an IT department and its service to business is not always easy, but it is absolutely necessary.
April 27, 2013 4:10 PM
Posted by: David Scott
, project management framework
, project manager
, project milestones
, project overruns
, project resources
Perhaps some insight: Does the vendor have a habit of re-scheduling meetings?- or, cancelling and renegotiating regularly-scheduled recurring ones? This would be a strong clue that they are fighting fires, and missing milestones with other clients – and your project is in a competition for their attention with other lagging projects.
As concerns ANY vendor or solutions partner, be sure to meet at their location from time-to-time – not just during an initial vetting of any particular solutions partner – but go to their site for meetings throughout the project – and judge the general culture and “feel” of the place. Does it look like a harried environment? Or, hopefully, are people focused, balanced, and seemingly productive? If the site looks and feels like a stressed environment (beyond the usual healthy tension), then you’d better re-evaluate your preferred vendor list.
In all cases, determine what caused the missed delivery(ies). Execute the clauses in all relevant contracts that trigger penalties for missed work (such as rebates, discounts, etc.) – hopefully you have those, but if not, be sure to craft future contracts this way.
Is the vendor solely to blame (or perhaps not at all)? Are there people or departments in your organization that are not submitting key deliverables to the vendor on time? You can’t penalize the vendor, or negotiate discounts, etc., if that is the case. Find the point(s) of failure and correct. As to the core of projects, stick carefully to milestones and statement/scopes-of-work. If there are change orders, and negotiated additions to the original project, make adjustments in your project management software and in reports, so that changes to the speed and direction of the “river” of the project do not show up as budget overruns and missed deliverables – it is not fair nor accurate to classify adjustments and additional work that way. (However, if poor project planning on the part of your organization exists, perhaps in the form of a poorly defined project, and related Request for Proposal [RFP], then this unfailingly results in a good-faith vendor Proposal, but one with poor match to your true business/IT requirements. The org suffers, and is at fault, and missed deadlines and a wobbly project should reflect in reports, so the org can learn and not repeat these mistakes).
If the vendor is truly remiss, then pilot the current project to successful conclusion as best you can, and write this vendor off if possible. If it’s a project that involves a central solution to the enterprise, like a core-business system, and it’s a vendor that’s virtually interwoven into your enterprise, then you’ll have to do the diligence with contracts and accountabilities. Possibly get some measure of your senior executive class to engage with theirs, in order to set some expectations for future engagements and progressions – and hopefully fulfillment of expectations for true adherence to milestones, project expectations, and deliveries.
When ironing out difficulties, maintain maturity, focus, transparency and communication. Learn from difficulties, and use them to improve contract documents, project management systems, early warning indicators, management of personnel, and reportage.
April 25, 2013 7:33 AM
Posted by: David Scott
1 year plan
Has It Happened to You? Having your browser hijacked, with constant resetting of your homepage, and nagging popups and ads, is a real drag. Just ask me.
Ever taken an old laptop off the shelf and turned it into (primarily) a Pandora radio station?
Lemme tell ya – it’s a chore.
I got around to installing Wi-Fi in my home. For a $29 router, and my existing cable modem/provider, I can’t believe I didn’t do this earlier. I pitched cable TV and I’m living on Hulu Plus and a handful of free stations (there’s tons, mostly junk), and occasionally I connect one of my two laptops up for some streaming, live, television.
I’m using a Roku device. It’s about the size of a hockey puck. It doesn’t support browsing, but most of the devices that do support browsing (perhaps all) haven’t yet established an agreement with Hulu, and other services that have both free and paid premium versions. (Thus, the Hulu-free version is blocked in devices that have browser-capability). Small surprise – if a SmarTV devlce allowed Hulu through its browser, you could watch the free version of Hulu on your HDTV. (With a laptop, you can). What I’m trying to say is that SmartTV devices (or “set top” devices, as some refer to them) with browsers require a subscription to the premium version of Hulu, and block the free version in the browser (other services with both free and paid versions do this too).
Anyway, I wanted my old Dell laptop to run Pandora (and others; free streaming internet radio, but most here probably know that) in my garage workshop, which also pipes music to my backyard/deck speakers. It’s Vista. And hadn’t been on the ‘net in about 4 years. Yah.
I had to download all kinds of upgrades, updates, service packs, and then take IE from 7 to 9 (necessary for Pandora). That all took 5 hours – and I don’t mean leaving and coming back to the laptop, with any idle time. Fortunately, I’m able to work on client stuff all day, and glanced left once in awhile to kick off the next necessary download, install, reboot, etc.
After all this, I wanted to set up some IE Favorites for Pandora, WBIX (Bix Beiderbecke), Jazz24.org (streaming jazz, good too), and WCPE – a classical station I listen to. First of all, I noticed that I couldn’t keep my homepage set to Google. I also could net set any Favorites – impossible. All kept reverting to something called Mixi.DJ. Chrome and Firefox were hosed too.
I researched the net, and supposedly the real culprit was search.conduit, and the advice was to delete all references of it in the Registry. Did that. Upon next boot, the references were back in there. Next, I simultaneously scrubbed that and any reference to Mixi.DJ; a few other things – no luck. It all comes back.
Ran Malwarebytes, free version. This had me very hopeful. Hope was quickly dashed. I tried something else, forget what, and also no luck. Then, in a forum somewhere, someone mentioned AdwCleaner. Free. Works. Works great. And it’s available for Mac – just Google for either version.
If you’re hit by malware, at least a browser hijacker, I’d recommend it. I now have my stations bookmarked, and the yard/deck jams. It’s pretty cool having a re-purposed laptop, with a simple mini-plug to RCA patch into AUX2 of my vintage Marantz receiver. Some of the stations on Pandora are redundant in what they play – they rival a Home Depot at holiday time for recurrence. Classic Metal is way too heavy on Ozzy (in or out of Sabbath). Heavy on Metallica, Priest, that stuff. Worse, they only play about 3 favored selections from each band. I love War Pigs, but don’t need to hear it five times in a week.
On the other hand, Pandora’s Delta Blues station is really nice. I don’t know that I’ve heard the same tune twice, and I’ve been turned on to a lot of stuff I’m not familiar with. You can set up your own stations too, based on some favored inputs on your part; artists and genres. For example, I set up a Howlin’ Wolf station, and Pandora suggests other artists for inclusion, and also throws tracks in as you’re listening from various other artists. Heck, it’s free.
Meantime, I’m also waiting for this device to come back on the market.
Don’t forget about AdwCleaner – kudos.
April 23, 2013 2:55 PM
Posted by: David Scott
1 year plan
[Note: Nothing in the following post is meant to be a criticism of the FBI’s agents – those people are supreme, and I thank all of them for the job they do. But as to the executive management, and government bureaucrats and politicians, it’s a fair question to ask: What year are these people living in?]
The events in Boston were horrific and, as trite as it sounds, I express my condolences to the victims and families of those killed and injured.
I was further impacted by Krystle Campbell’s mother, Patty, and her statement. I won’t belabor nor detail her heart-rending appearance on camera, not long after the bombing, but she said something that I… “took away” for lack of better words. Actually, she said many things in that regard, but one thing in particular made me think:
She mentioned Krystle as having “worked so hard…” – she was achieving, she was living, she was motivated. It made no sense to her mother that someone like Krystle can be gone due to such senseless circumstances.
And again, it sounds trite, but I thought: How often have I wished that I worked a little harder? Whether to stick to my exercise regime, to eat right, to deliver a little faster to a client, to get along with family members, to get my damn lawn mowed, or just giving someone a hand – whatever it is I’ve got going.
Whatever it is you’ve got going: I’m lousy at preaching, and I’m often lousy at living, but why don’t we all work a little harder? In remembrance of Krystle, we can strive for a bit more excellence. Let’s do better. I’m not exactly the sensitive type, but knowledge of Krystle and her life came to me through terrible circumstances, but perhaps she lives on if someone out there does something good by virtue of Krystle’s ethic and hard work. And somebody please – maybe even me, maybe even everyone reading this – please do it on a consistent basis – and if that happens, can Krystle really be gone? That sounds trite, a little stupid, and perhaps naïve. But it’s all I can offer at the moment – and it’s weak.
Well, in a crazy way, that brings me to the FBI and Big Data – ‘cause I sure am getting tired of terror.
Major news organizations, like this one, have asked: Why did it take four days to find the Boston bombers? They had the elder brother, Tamerian Tsarnaev, on file – having been warned by the Russian government (no less) that he had radical ties, and was a potential terror risk.
As Peter Foster, US Editor of the U.K.’s The Telegraph so succinctly puts it:
“I’m not sure what the FBI equivalent of Google is, but surely “Boston + terrorist + jihad watch list + Muslim Community” should have thrown up the name “Tamerlan Tsarnaev.”
Within hours of the bombs, the FBI should have had ready access to records of people in the Boston area that had anything terror-related in their backgrounds – which of course this guy did. Here, the FBI didn’t even have to do a “known associates” scrounge – they’d have seen that the younger brother was a student – and would have gone to the campus, and found the guy in the gym! Or at that campus party he went to – in the days after the bombing.
Foster again: “Even more staggering is that when they did eventually isolate Tamerlan and his younger brother Dzhokhar from the hours of CCTV and smartphone footage taken at the race – a process that took three precious days – even then the FBI didn’t make the connection.”
In my book, I.T. Wars, I actually discussed back in 2007 the FBI’s failures with their VCF (Virtual Case File) system – a project that was so screwed up it was abandoned even though it was mounted specifically to meet the challenges of the post-9/11 world. It was superseded by a system called Sentinel, which has its own problems. Do you know, in more than 25 years in high-level IT, I’ve never abandoned a project? I spec and mount them too well. And, I’ve written Project Management Frameworks for Fortune100 enterprises, as well as the Pentagon – so it’s not like I haven’t had challenges during my career.
I’m sure many others here too harbor similar records. People in IT take pride in being empirical, and in fitting technical solutions to whatever the business at-hand is. Can we get simple Big Data concepts implemented at the FBI, and other government agencies that work in harmony, to thwart terror? – and, when bad outcomes do happen, can we please make more efficient responses?
There’s also reportage that the FBI missed the elder brother’s trip to Russia due to a misspelling on a manifest of some sort. Even Google coughs up ‘near-enough’ suggestions when I do searches, and make typos.
To repeat: This is not a criticism of the FBI’s agents – those people are supreme. But as to the executive management, and government bureaucrats and politicians, it’s a fair question to ask: What year are we living in when Big Data is not making already known data serve us best?
To our government and key agencies I say: Please swing Big Data for all it’s worth. And, just to note, this is not a “Big Brother”-type nightmare. This is the effective leveraging of data the government already has.
Make it work.
April 19, 2013 9:07 AM
Posted by: David Scott
, business imagination
, business investment
Increasingly, BIG DATA means leveraging more than just an organization’s internal data. No matter how effectively you shatter the walls of discreet internal systems, and begin to make sensible blend of enhancing and mutually reinforcing content, you’re still not optimized for the use of data if you ignore what is readily available out-of-house.
External Data: This data too is enhancing, and mutually reinforcing, in terms of your organization’s best exploitation of knowledge to be had. How can you afford to maintain some measure of ignorance, when you can’t count on your competition to do the same?
In other words, you cannot count on competitors to not exploit public domain knowledge – ripe and ready for the pickins’. Competitive Intelligence (CI) is the leveraging of internal and outside data (when relevant to any specific need), in creating and using BIG DATA; subsequently leveraged for the organization’s advantage in the market.
Recognize that we’re discussing the legal and ethical procurement of data. This is not corporate espionage or spying. It is not hacking and breaching. To be clear, CI most emphatically is not Competitor Hacks (CH), which has been discussed here, perhaps branded for the first time as CH at The Business-Technology Weave. (CH is also mentioned here, and here; you can see articles at the surrounding dates for security in general).
CI is availing ourselves of knowledge (data, content) that is all over the web, in public records, newspapers, blogs, forums, company’s-own reports, and various companies’ web presences, and all the exploitable information there. Also ripe for inclusion to CI big data endeavors can be info gleaned about an org’s own customers, suppliers, solutions-partners (vendors), and so forth. Also recognize that CI means that you (your org) must monitor what both you put “out there,” and what others do.
Applications exist, and are being progressed, that build and deliver coherent and highly relevant content by pairing internal content with external content. Be aware, however, that CI is leading to the deliberate creation of misinformation in order to mislead, and to make CI utilizers look foolish, or to make bad forecasting, bad decisions, etc. CI involves a certain wariness – but true business always requires careful use of resources, and careful forecasting, careful decision-making, and careful progressions.
The CI realm requires the same level of care and vetting.
April 13, 2013 12:00 PM
Posted by: David Scott
, data accessibility
, data as a service
, data integrity
, data storage
BIG DATA is becoming well-established at big organizations. But it is coming rapidly to other orgs as well. If your organization’s enterprise has not yet captured the advantages in leveraging BIG DATA, it’s time to at least get familiar with the concept, and to get it onto your planning schedule.
BIG DATA reigns in data that has become too big and too disparate: The days are fast closing for any organization that harbors data in a plethora of discreet systems. That is, vertically isolated databases supporting enterprise-core business systems, e-mail systems, accounting systems, personnel systems (HR), order systems, discreet CRM, and so forth. BIG DATA shatters walls and allows inclusive datasets in response to queries and calls for comprehensive information regarding specific entities: clients, competitors, concepts, projects, forecasts, analysis… name any type of informing content (information) that your organization has, and BIG DATA serves up that information in a cohesive and collective manner.
BIG DATA serves Business Intelligence, and BI is huge. BI essentially is the intelligent use of data that is leveraged across and through dispersed systems that are internal to the organization. The sources are your organization’s assets – but too often, incomplete content is delivered in poor service to actual needs. Business forecasting suffers, analysis suffers, forward progressions suffer. Reporting, survey, and intelligent thinking are ill-served by virtue of the fact that much data gets overlooked – it’s hidden. Consider:
“The world is full of obvious things which nobody by any chance ever observes.” ~ Sherlock Holmes, The Hound of the Baskervilles
Indeed, Sherlock: “It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.” ~ A Scandal in Bohemia
“Data! Data! Data!… I can’t make bricks without clay.” ~ The Adventure of the Copper Beeches
Remember - Data and its related management and use represents a major investment: You must achieve the proper return-on-investment (ROI) – and that ROI is dependent on doing something productive with that data, which means you must leverage it in the most efficient and effective way possible.
Your bricks – projects, reports, deliveries, forecastings, analysis, products, services, progressions, protections, et al – are going to require more than data. They’ll require complete data – and that’s taking on a whole new meaning:
You need BIG DATA.
Next: Competitive Intelligence (CI) – Leveraging external data
April 12, 2013 12:13 PM
Posted by: David Scott
, project manager
, project resources
A great question came to my attention recently. Essentially:
How best to manage team members who are afraid to commit to tasks?
Background information showed the central fear being one of committing to a schedule. Generally, most folks working in IT, in any capacity, can predict with a fair amount of accuracy when they can have a task, project, piece of work – whatever – completed… if they are experienced. It helps if they are familiar with the nature of the work – but they usually are, or close enough, if they are the ones selected for assignment in the first place.
Those folks who lack experience – either generally, or according to specific piece of work – can be skittish about committing. However, schedules do need to be set, and often times tasks support much larger efforts: The project-whole; a key module’s enablement, and thus business’ enablement; a critical update, and so forth.
In the case of subordinates, working under a manager or team leader, who are reticient: You must meet with them one-on-one, and explain the importance for setting some sort of marker. Confide some unease that you had early in your career, and what you did to ensure things worked out – and they did! Commit to helping the trepidatious person if the going gets rough: “We’ll get you the resources and help you need – we’re a team.”
Emphasize the “team” aspect – both in terms of support, but also in the critical sense that the team needs this person’s best engagement, analysis, commitment, and delivery-to-schedule. It’s all a part of growth.
It’s essentially an opportunity – and sell it as that to the fearful member. Step up, move up, step up, move up… Even for folks who desire to remain static in their IT career – the world does not. They have to evolve, learn, adapt, and take on new challenges regardless – so they’d better get on it.
Afraid to commit? In IT? Nah – not an option.
April 2, 2013 10:40 AM
Posted by: David Scott
, Apple iPhone
Let’s start with a few that might serve your existence, and we’ll finish with a couple games (in that case, I guess they all serve existence); most of ‘em free:
MyFitnessPal: This app seems to have great utility in helping any of us manage our diets and our workouts. Nutritional information for a diverse array of foods and meal ideas is key, and you can keep track of your workout routines – don’t miss those, and get tips for safe, effective exercises.
Path: Here’s a mobile social network with many recent improvements, such as “stickers” (which are of greater variety, and more definitive, than emoticons), and special messaging involving group and individual capabilities. Be wary, though, as Path has had some privacy and breach issues in the recent past, hopefully resolved.
System Util Dashboard: This can be handy for heavy mobile users: You can track phone usage from a utility point of view – space left, battery life, and data and processor usage. Even if you aren’t experiencing crunches, gadget freaks will want it. :^ ) (I could use a sticker here…)
Vine: Here’s a gif maker for Twitter. If brevity is the soul of wit, then I guess we’ll be seeing plenty of wit in videos, as they’re limited to 6 seconds. Come to think of it, that’s plenty of time for me to blast out a 360 of my new hairstyle…
Tinder: A dating app that syncs to your Facebook profile, it surveys for any share of friends, your location, interests, networks, etc. You can then view other users near you of potential compatibility… and hopefully, something catches fire…
Here’s some games. I’ll admit that I don’t play games (on devices) – mainly a time factor – but I understand the appeal for those that do:
Sonic Dash: Hmmm… lots of running, jumping, obstacle-avoiding… measures of merit like the collecting of rings, tracking of meters travelled. WTH, it’s free.
Bastion: Fantasy setting, “the Kid” fighting enemies in a post-apocalyptic scape – geez, I’m not looking to relive my childhood. Wait, it was ok. No really…
Punch Quest: Enemies and pushing and punching. I’m not looking to… wait…
Nimble Quest: If you run into a monster or a wall, you die. Other than that, it’s life as we know it: Assembling hero-sorts of various capacities; sword-wielding, fireball-throwing and so forth, creating a longer and stronger “snake” as you fight monsters and… critters… and avoid walls… it’s my last office all over again – minus the squirrels ;^) (where did I put those stickers??)
With all of the free and low-cost apps, it might be time for a tip-toe through the Apple Apps Store.
NP: Sonny Stitt, Only the Blues, original 1957 Verve LP. A thrift store find, this LP was abused and heavily scratched. The sound was considerably improved by virtue of my KLH DNF 1201a (Dynamic Noise Filter – a transient noise impulse reducer – or, a “click-and-pop” machine), allowing me a great listen to a great session. From Wikipedia, session notes.
March 31, 2013 3:26 PM
Posted by: David Scott
, project management
, project management framework
, project manager
, project milestones
A great, and provocative, question arose recently:
Agree or disagree: Many people list Project Management as a skill, but have no certification to support their claim. Does this bother you?
The short answer is “No.”
“Education is what is left after you’ve forgotten everything you’ve learned.” – Albert Einstein.
Certifications can make some hiring authorities feel comfortable, but experience is everything. A PMP certificate doesn’t accommodate organizational politics (certainly not specific environments), and may not delve far enough into the greatest challenges for any endeavor: People. The rest (the mechanics of PM’ing projects, and acclimating to specific ones upon assignment) is a piece of cake, comparatively speaking.
In my case, I’ve managed large capital projects, and written frameworks for Fortune100 companies as well as Pentagon agencies. I have no project-related certs and doubt I ever will. I’m strictly experienced, having worked my way up by the seat of my pants, starting small, and graduating to larger and larger projects (and larger and larger enterprise environments). Nothing – NOTHING – trumps experience, knowledge and, in particular, wisdom. That’s not to say that someone with certs is discounted – but they have to have the practical experience to go along with that before I’d ever call them a true Project Manager.
I would never screen someone from consideration who is minus a PMP – however, I do look to schooling and degree levels in general – it shows discipline and the ability to reach goals. Recognize too that, depending on when any certificate was issued, it’s going to be out-of-date fairly quickly. Unless a person is taking refreshers (some of which may be necessary for maintaining a certified status), then “old” education may actually be inhibiting.
Give me someone, anyone, immersed in IT that has common – make that exceptional – sense, and I’ll give you a Project Manager. Maturity, focus, confidence (absent arrogance), social skills, ability to prioritize, and ability to compromise are measures not often embodied in single individuals.
But, when canvassing IT – those are the people who make good project managers, certs or no.