Five Years of Grey

image

Infinite Shades of Grey is about advanced consulting skills. The point of the blog and book was to share tips and techniques that can make good technical consultants into great consultants. One of the key things I propose is a consulting process. With a process, you can evaluate how you did and make changes to improve. So it is time to apply that to the blog writing after 5 years of grey.

The top 10 blog posts of all time of the 150+ I have made have generated over 50% of the total volume to the site and over 15,000 unique visitors. Let’s look at why that is the case.

Post Rank Topic
So you are an Associate Consultant and want to be a Partner? 1 Career and Money
Golgafrincham “B” Ark – What to do when you don’t have one handy 2 Skill
The World’s Most Expensive Consultant 3 Career and Money
What’s the cost of bad IT architecture? 4 Business
Why is Enterprise Architecture failing? 5 Business
How to deal with the Consultant Performance Review or a.k.a. Mastering the Unbalanced Scorecard 6 Career and Money
Thanks for Noticing – Responding to Criticism 7 Skill
Learning from Other’s Mistakes– The Power of the Anti-Pattern 8 Skill
The perfect consultant – The Ambivert? 9 Skill
Facilitating the “Angry Mob” meeting Part 3 10 Skill

Let’s look at the site’s raison d’être first, skills training. The most popular posts on skills are, in order:

  1. Dealing with idiots
  2. Dealing with Criticism leveled at me
  3. Recognizing problem situations
  4. Introspection on my personal abilities and ability to be a good consultant. Is it for me?
  5. Dealing with problem people. ( in 3 parts )

What these have in common is they all have a direct correlation to personal stress and emotions. What I would take from that, is the majority of people searching are looking for help because they have encountered a problem of their own.

The next category is career and money.

  1. moving up the food chain
  2. how rich can I get?
  3. getting more money and recognition

Therefore clearly a second popular reason to search for answers is career and money.

Lastly, there are industry pieces with a decidedly negative tone. Why a service is failing or the results of bad work creating failures. My only assumption after reviewing the search terms used is that people are looking to debunk certain trends. I know for certain that Enterprise Architects get a rough ride from their more technology-focused counterparts who believe EA’s mostly sell snake-oil to management. Unfortunately it is sometimes true and that doesn’t help the profession. The point however is that there seems to be a need (or market) for honest appraisals of things that don’t work as well as they should in the architecture industry.

The fourth learning was that of the other 140+ posts that some of the posts I consider personally to be real gems of learning in advanced consulting skills have minimal popularity. An example of that is my post on influencing styles.

Ambidextrous Influence

The techniques contained in this post were some of the most important consulting skills I have ever learned in over 30 years in this business. I believe many consultants would benefit from learning and applying these skills. However, very few people ever searched for “how to influence”. In fact it was one of the least visited posts with fewer than 100 visits over 5 years.

The analysis reveals to me the following 2 key things:

  • People search for things that are either causing them pain or have direct financial benefit.
  • They don’t search for skills that would make them better or more proficient

Therefore from a blog perspective, if I want to drive value from this effort (which only occurs when people read it), I need to tailor the content in two ways:

  • Focus on what consultants struggle with and cause them pain
  • Convince them that core skills have a direct correlation to their financial future.

Let’s see what the new focus brings!

Advertisements
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Is your IT architecture going in the right direction?

clip_image002

“Architects, if they are really to be comprehensive, must assume the enormous task of thinking in terms always disciplined to the scale of the total world pattern of needs, its resource flows, its recirculatory and regenerative processes.” – Buckminster Fuller, Ideas and Integrities: A Spontaneous Autobiographical Disclosure

There are lots of architectural principles that form the total world pattern of needs in IT including but not limited to:

  • Adaptability and flexibility
  • Availability
  • Business alignment & Benefits Management
  • Business continuity
  • Compliance
  • Component reusability and simplicity
  • Control of technical diversity (Service Depth and Lifecycle Control)
  • Cost Efficiency across the lifecycle
  • Deliverability
  • Differentiating for Advantage and Benefit
  • Encapsulation
  • Equitable and Flexibility in use (User Persona Sensitive)
  • Information security & privacy
  • Interoperability
  • Isolation
  • Low-coupling interfaces
  • Maintainability & Sustainability over Lifecycle
  • Managed Risk
  • Modularity
  • Operations Efficiency & Administration
  • Performance
  • Quality management
  • Resilience
  • Resources management
  • Safety
  • Scalability
  • Tolerance for error in use or administration
  • Usability and Adoption

Over a decade ago the University of Florida and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign ran a multi-year study on large scale Collaborative Design Processes. One of the key findings was in the big-picture architecture visioning process, that a collaborative approach failed miserably. The model that worked was called “over-the-wall”. In the “over-the-wall” process, a single resource would work a design and then pass it “over-the-wall” for feedback, refinement and then back again. It could be done either serially or on parallel tracks (multiple architects) but working it simultaneously on the same vision was problematic. What the study conclusively proved was that the smallest teams, where the individual roles were the largest and most discrete always generated the best design. In short, 1 architect in control is better than 2 and way better than 3. That does not mean the design should not have feedback or collaborative input, it means that there should be one driver for each vision.

Bucky uses the terms “always disciplined to the scale of the total world pattern of needs, its resource flows, its recirculatory and regenerative processes”. In other words, the very biggest picture, with very complex interactions and numbers of interwoven attributes and variables that make sharing the birth of the vision virtually impossible.

One of the things about IT systems architecture is we rarely realize when it’s good only when it’s bad. We know it’s bad when we hear;

  • ”can’t make that change it’s too expensive”
  • “going to take too long”
  • “we don’t touch that, it’s too risky”
  • “Only Fred understands it, and he’s on sabbatical [ code word for stress leave ]”
  • “It’s down, and it’s staying down”

If you hear those words there is likely only two options.

  1. Your architect wasn’t up to the task at hand or
  2. You had multiple people driving the architecture vision at the same time.

So what kind of architect do you need to drive?

“The ideal architect should be a person of letters, a skillful draftsman, a mathematician, familiar with historical studies, a diligent student of philosophy, acquainted with music, not ignorant of medicine, learned in the responses of jurisconsults, familiar with astronomy and astronomical calculations.” – ― Vitruvius

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The 3 Missing Ingredients In Today’s Projects

 

badma

Five years ago I wrote a post that was inspired by seeing a lack of courage and tenacity in today’s projects. We have become so risk averse that commodity services & solutions are dominating the marketplace. Commodities by definition make you the same as everyone else. Where is the drive for competitive differentiators and competitive advantages? Where are the bold projects that will change the world?  In absolute safety we have absolute parity and no one ever wins.

I recently heard of a multi-million project that ground to a halt because two major companies couldn’t agree over a process that governed a $75 impact. Why? Not a single person was willing to step outside protocol, methodology or policy, not even a bit, not even for $75. What was a lacking was empowerment to make a battlefield decision. So I want to revise my former post of my “BDMA”  proposed 5 years ago accordingly to include now empowerment as a critical new element.

Today we have lots of methodologies. Lots and lots of them. They give us process, they define artefacts and deliverables, they provide roles and governance and they provide lifetime employment for “gurus” to write bookshelf straining tomes to explain them. For the most part, they are all good and in some other ways they uniformly lack a key component. I respectfully suggest the missing component. It is now newly renamed the Bonaparte-Adams-Drake Methodology Adapter. (BADMA)

BADMA is built on 3 premises from its namesakes.

“The torment of precautions often exceeds the dangers to be avoided.” – Napolean Bonaparte

“For a moment, nothing happened. Then, after a second or so, nothing continued to happen” – Douglas Adams

“There must be a beginning of any great matter, but the continuing unto the end until it be thoroughly finished yields the true glory.”- Francis Drake

For the most part, the adapter injects now three missing components into many of today’s methodologies.

They are:

Courage

To complete a risk analysis, yes but to look very, very closely at the potential impact of that risk should it be realized and to not overstate it. This allows you to think broader and deeper than you did before.

“what if we just scrap that module and start again instead of tinkering with it” . Bonaparte would ask you;” what are the real dangers of just starting again?”. Is it really that heinous? Will it really put you months behind schedule or are you just afraid of taking it on?

Evaluate the time you spend thinking about doing something against the actual effort of doing it and perhaps just throwing it away if it didn’t work.

I recently led a project for a financial services company where some complex business rules for the adjudication were being discussed. We also were to discuss the best choice of business rule engine for the rules to be built in. One of my developers offered an opinion in the meeting. “Why don’t we just do it in BizTalk?” he said. “Why?” asked the client. He said “Well while you were putting the rules on the whiteboard, I coded them. It’s done.” and he demonstrated it. Courage.

Process is good, methodology is good but don’t let it extinguish the spark of innovation and better ideas by being too cautious.

Empowerment

The point of Douglas Adam’s quote ““For a moment, nothing happened. Then, after a second or so, nothing continued to happen” is that nothing will ever change unless something acts on it to effect that change. Somebody needs to DO something, to take the initiative and to be the catalyst for change. They need to be empowered to act.

Policies, standards and methodologies are good things. They keep corporations and projects from driving into the ditch. However policies and standards are the products of negotiation and thus by definition they are negotiable. People establish policies and standards so they can prevent bad things from happening. However if everyone knows with absolute certainty that no bad thing will happen and the invocation of that policy or standard is absolutely creating another bad thing to happen, then the people in the battlefield observing this, need the empowerment to make the call, to break policy and be accountable for it. Policies and standards are not created by omniscient beings. They are based around common occurrences and practices. Yet, stuff happens in the battlefield; unexpected, unknown and probably unwanted. Empowerment needs to exist to make the call and act when adherence to the policy is clearly detrimental to all concerned.

Tenacity

“Thoroughly finished” is not just finished. It’s tested, it’s stress tested, it’s performance tested, it’s user tested, it’s documented completely, it’s peer reviewed, it’s got great code quality, it’s something that you want pull out a source listing for 40 years from now and show your grandkids. It’s making that better design work. It proving that the design was better. It’s innovation to just raise the quality bar just one more notch.

Following a process is not just getting a “tick” in the box besides the artefact deliverable. The deliverable if you’re going to do it, needs to have real value. Value to either the next step in the process or value for reference. On some artefacts, people tend to show some tenacity. I have seen some Use Cases that are well-developed, complete and ready for Analysis. But have you ever read a Use case Survey? Yes it’s a key artefact of the Unified Process and if it exists at all in most projects, it is rarely accurate or usable. It is for most, just a “tick” in the deliverable box. What would Francis Drake have to say about it? Make sure it’s thoroughly finished or just get it out of your plan altogether. In a half-baked form it is completely useless for its intended purpose.

Some years ago I was asked to review the architecture and deliverables of a very large integration project that was “in trouble”. Every artefact was checked in, every artefact was dutifully signed off and upon my review, every artefact was woefully incomplete. Including my favourite description of a complex business process in a Use case. I will quote directly:

“Blah

Blah

Blah”

Thoroughly Finished. Tenacity.

 

So how do you plug my adapter into your methodology? Well … that takes courage ,  tenacity and  empowerment. Perhaps then we will start to see IT initiatives that can again change the world.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Some travel required – why some IT jobs should come with divorce benefits instead of dental benefits

 

clip_image001

The statistics are staggering that over 50% of marriages end in divorce but what about high-tech travelling consultants’ marriages? 82%. As a traveling IT consultant you are much more likely to get divorced than stay married. That’s just a statistical fact.

If you work in the high-tech consulting industry, finding someone who has not been divorced at least once is quite a feat. What is it about this industry that makes it near impossible to sustain a healthy long term relationship?

Well let’s compare it to a professional field where the marriage statistics just rock. Optometry. Optometrists manage an awesome 4% divorce rate. The absolute lowest in the professional field. Are they simply better people? Not likely…. It is probably their job.

clip_image003

clip_image005

Attribute

IT Consulting

Optometrist

Travel

Extensive – 50%+

None

Available Hours to be Home Each Week

88 hours

128 hours

Client and Non client engagement not including partner or spouse (Bus. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, entertainment)

14 hours weekly

0 hours

Off-site Seminars and professional development per year

370 hours

40 hours

Flexibility (ability to arrange schedule to family matters)

20%

79%

Stress

High

Low

Hours to Compensate for Stress

6 hours

0 hours

Average Length of Interaction with same Clients/Patients weekly (minutes)

1140 minutes

20 minutes

Opportunities for Intimacy with partner/spouse (weekly)

~3

7+

Personally I made the decision early in my career to be in global consulting. Travelling extensively for 30 years and for over 10 consecutive years, I travelled every week, on the road for 1 or 2 weeks at a time, leaving for a flight on Sunday and flying home again the following Friday night. Sometimes I got back Friday, sometimes Saturday and sometimes I never made it back at all. There is no question that my career benefited from this. I have been very well paid, I have a business track-record and resumé that rocks, I can work anywhere in the world and command high compensation. I told myself that I was doing it for my family, perhaps I was but it came at a terrible cost to them and myself.

I laugh when people ask where I have worked in the world, I tell them and inevitably the comment that follows is “oh, you are so lucky to get to travel like that!” No, not really. The sheer irony of racking up air miles for the opportunity to get back on an aircraft for your vacations is really quite funny. I once donated over 600,000 Delta skymiles, just to get rid of them before they expired.

The optometrist will get to see his or her kids grow up, take their first step, hit their first baseball, play their first recital and ride their first horse. The travelling IT consultants will get to see some of them, but not all and what builds behind each missed opportunity is not recognition that you are providing well for your family but with each missed event another seed of disappointment is planted. All you need now is a stressed parent & partner arriving home after flight delays, lost luggage and routing through Cincinnati with a 7 hour lay-over to bring some dampened spirits to get those seeds of disappointment to grow.

In the past week I have seen two colleagues make polar opposite decisions in this matter. One colleague left our company to take a significant career jump in an overseas job where their family will only be able to reconnect occasionally in-person for some years. Another colleague left our company because the toll the job was taking was too high and they wanted to spend more quality time with their spouse and children. I have a tremendous amount of respect for both of these professionals but what I know with absolute mathematical certainty is that the Optometrist gets to keep their marriage and family intact more often.  If you want that statistical advantage you need to pick jobs that:

  • Give you more available hours to be home each week
  • Allow you to interact with your partner/spouse more than you do with clients
  • Gives you the flexibility to schedule time around family events (school concerts, sports, practices, birthdays, graduations etc.)
  • Keeps stress under control, so you don’t need non-family outlets to control the stress. (healthy or otherwise)
  • Let’s you spend more quality time with your family, than colleagues and clients
  • Let’s you can keep the home fires burning in your love life.

At least you will have a fighting chance.

il_570xN_721345155_ctz9

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Is Technology Making Us Dumber?

 

In Lake Park Wisconsin last week a professional transport truck driver with almost 30 years accident-free experience behind the wheel drove his rig onto a pedestrian path, across two foot bridges and had to be lifted by crane back onto the roadway after collapsing a third. The culprit… he was following his GPS voice instructions.

clip_image002

clip_image004

He is not alone in his problems with technology. Just ask the FAA.

clip_image006

Modern flight path management systems on today’s aircraft provide a “moving map” to see the position of the aircraft. The pilot programs the route of flight and then the autopilot can follow the planned route. The use of this technology makes everyone smarter right? No, it actually it creates new challenges that can lead to diminishing of pilot knowledge and skills.

But it’s safe, thoroughly tested on specialized multi-redundant equipment right? Look again closer.

clip_image007

What happened to the truck driver and happens to today’s pilots, multiple times every week, is that they not only start to implicitly trust the technology they are working with but also can no longer do their basic functions without it. The FAA has implemented a program where they need to actively back down on the reliance on technology in the cockpit with 4 key principles.

· Improved training and flightcrew procedures to improve autoflight mode awareness

  • AKA Know when the computer is in control and what it’s doing for you

· Reducing the number and complexity of autoflight modes from the pilot’s perspective

  • AKA Keep it simple, don’t let it the computer be too much smarter than the pilot

· Highlight and stress that the responsibility for flight path management remains with the pilots at all times.

  • AKA Remember you are actually the pilot not the computer

· Identify appropriate opportunities for manual flight operations

  • AKA Turn it off once in a while and go be a real pilot

http://www.faa.gov/news/fact_sheets/news_story.cfm?newsId=15434

Let’s bring it a little closer to home. …. Are you getting dumber?

Your sister’s birthday is tomorrow. You call your brother-in-law to ask what she would like for her birthday and he tells you. You will go out to the store tomorrow morning and pay by check for it. (she likes expensive things)

A quick test.

· Without looking at your phone what is the phone number of your 3 closest family members or friends? (your sister)

· You are going out to the mall tomorrow, how long would it take you to find tomorrow’s weather if you were not allowed to look at your smart phone or computer?

· Take the price of the item suggested by your brother-in-law and add 14% sales taxes and provide the grand total. You may not use a calculator of any sort. The price is $600.00

· What’s the current balance in your checking account? You may not use the internet.

· Which of the three electronics retailers has the best price for your sister’s present and do they have it in stock? You may not use the internet.

Here is how I would answer those questions.

· I know 1 of 3 sister’s phone numbers because it has not changed in 40 years, long before I had a computer or cell phone so it’s imprinted. The other two sisters, the only place it is stored is in my contacts list on my computers, tablets and phones. Without them or internet access, I would not know them and as they are both out of town so a phone book is not useful (if I had one). What was that number again (areacode) 555-1212?

· If I had to check the weather without internet, I suppose I could check the weather channel. But I discontinued live TV service in favour of internet Netflix etc. Perhaps I would go buy a newspaper if I actually had to know?

· Ah-ha at last something I can do in my head.

  • Price of item. Move decimal 1 place left. That’s 10%
  • Half of that amount again is 5% . Add the 2 together
  • Move the decimal 2 place on the price that’s 1%
  • Subtract that amount from the sub-total of the 2
  • Tada 14% …
  • (but I truly wonder how many people could do it)

The price is $600 (go ahead try it… yes I like my sister apparently)

Now try it again at $961.24 (can you still do it in your head?)

· My chequing account balance would require a trip to an ATM (of my bank only) to get a balance display. If the ATM was out of order and the bank/telephone banking was closed I could guess within $500 likely and be right. But I would not be 100% right.

· To check electronic retailers I would likely need a trip to the garage recycling bin and retrieve unopened flyers for the past few weeks. It is possible the item may be in it, but most likely I would just get an impression about which store normally had better prices. Or I wait until tomorrow and visit all three.

Originally I laughed when I saw the picture of the poor guy’s truck stuck on the pedestrian path, but now I realize it is no laughing matter. We need to leverage technology to make us better and smarter but we need to make sure it is in fact doing just that.

Posted in Musing, Technology | Leave a comment

Some year-end thoughts about collaboration, teamwork and individual contributions

 

hassli

Watch this Video!

On June 11th, 2011 Eric Hassli of the Vancouver Whitecaps scored what has now been called perhaps the best goal in the history of North American major league soccer.  In this game the last ranked Vancouver Whitecaps played against the top ranked Seattle Sounders in what should have been a obvious Sounders victory, but it was not. Why?

Individual Contribution

Does collaboration and teamwork deliver success or does collaboration and teamwork just enable and amplify individual contributions that create success? In other words; can a team actually score a goal or does a team enable its players to score  goals for them? Does this nuance matter? I think it does.

When you look at the video you will note:

  • the ball is already down the field
  • Hassli gets an opportune pass
  • The defenders are occupied by his team mates
  • With great personal skill he executes the shot
  • All four things are required to get the goal

Effective collaboration and teamwork does not mean that every client interaction requires a bevy of best-buddies present. Effective collaboration is where you have the right people interacting with your client and their team is enabling them to do their best possible work for the client and make the team successful.

My checklist for effective teamwork and collaboration for the consulting business.

1) Understand that in the consulting business the client is buying consultants. It seems like an obvious statement but if you do not understand that consultants are not commodities, they are not interchangeable and they bring individual knowledge, experience and track record as their main assets then you have missed the main point of  consulting. There is an “I” in team, you just need to look closely for it.

team

2) Surround your consultants with people that amplify their skills and fill the skill gaps where necessary. Be rigorous in protecting your client from people with roles that do not add direct value to the client.

3) Think about the composition of the team from the client’s perspective and keep it client specific. What skills and capabilities does your client need to be successful? That should be the first question when thinking about a team model to serve your client.

4) Incentivize the right team behaviors. Kudos should not be handed out for how many meetings you participate in or the frequency of status updates on social networks. There is a difference between being busy and truly being collaborative. Behaviors that enable the team members to do their very best work for the client (first) and the practice (second) should be recognized and rewarded.

Posted in Consulting Excellence | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

CEO: Why you should worry more about XP than you did about Y2K

clip_image002

The Year 2000 came and went without all the horrific events speculated by the prognosticators of doom. Why was that? … It was because; we understood the problem (99-98=1 and 00-99=-99), we knew how to fix it, invested billions of dollars years in advance to fix it and fixed it before it became a problem.

The scale of the XP problem is much worse. Why?

Because few people even understand the problem.

Let’s try an analogy first.

  • You have bought a car in the year 2000. The manufacturer no longer has a warranty and there are no parts suppliers on the planet who make replacement parts for your car or mechanics who know how to fix it.
  • On April 9th, 2014 when you put the key in the ignition, the key locks in place and cannot be removed and the door locks are fixed permanently in the unlocked position. Wherever you park, you can turn the engine off, but cannot remove the key and if you leave your vehicle anyone can get inside, mess with your stuff or steal the car or its contents.
  • You can buy a new car but
    • You have to get your stuff moved from the old car
    • Your favorite cassette tapes all need to be converted to CD or repurchased on digital music streaming.
    • You lose what fuel is left in the tank

With those thoughts in mind, let’s explain 3 things you really need to know about the XP problem.

1) You can’t get hardware anymore.

Today is a special day; the last XP compatible PC rolls off an assembly line at Dell. Every other manufacturer has already stopped making XP compatible machines. What does this mean?

It means that the PC you use to send orders from the ERP system to your factory floor that has been sitting there for over a decade, when it broke before you sent someone to the computer store, they brought another PC back, plugged it in, restored the backup and you were back running again. Now when it breaks, you can’t get a computer to replace it. It stays broken… forever.

2) On April 9th 2014, XP is no longer fully supported by Microsoft at any price.

XP without a doubt was the single largest advance in operating systems ever. One of the reasons for that was that it made building great business applications simple and the operating system would eagerly do things with storage, memory and networking that was previously handled by complex application code. In fact XP was so good at this that it became easy for other programs to take advantage of those same services but for nefarious purposes. Viruses and malware became the bane of XP’s existence making it the most hacked piece of software of all time. On April 9th of 2014, Microsoft will stop supporting XP which means that you will no longer be able to get hardware, driver, firmware change support or fixes at any price. You can purchase critical security fixes from Microsoft but be aware these are only the “Top” priority ones. You are still exposed. Today, you likely don’t even know that you apply 20 or so updates or patches to your XP system every month to keep it healthy. On April 9th, that number goes to zero and your system is immediately exposed to threats.

“But I have Anti-Virus software!”. Sorry. The bad news is that AV software actually relies on operating system functions to do its job. AV software only protects you from viruses that are already known but when (not if) a new virus gets in and exploits the Operating System with no ability to patch the system. It’s game over. You are down, potentially permanently.

3) Well I’ll just move to Windows 8 if that happens.

A few things you need to know.

  • The existing computer may or may not be able to run Windows 8 and may need to be replaced. (CapEx warning)
  • Your XP Application may not run on Windows 8. As I indicated before the new Operating Systems are much more secure than XP. That means that they do not emulate many of XP’s bad habits like being friendly to applications requesting services before they are trusted. There is therefore a probability that an XP version of your application, simply will not run on Windows 8.1. Sometimes there are techniques for getting it to run, but they take remediation time and effort to accomplish. Sometimes there is nothing you can do and the application must be replaced.
  • Some applications you MUST upgrade to run. New versions of applications mean:
    • Business process impact
    • User Training Requirements
    • User Data Migration (excel spreadsheets, access databases etc.)
    • Organizational Change Management
  • You have more installed applications than you think that you actually run your business on. For companies where software installation is not centrally monitored and controlled it is not uncommon to find that users have installed 5-10 applications per year each that are now used daily to support your business. You can’t just ignore them. Some companies have 10’s of thousands of unique applications that were installed without IT department knowledge but do still play a critical part in running the business.

Plan and Budget accordingly, especially for the time required.

The biggest problem with XP is that many people don’t see it as a problem. If your company hasn’t budgeted and is executing on a robust XP remediation program to get you on a supported platform by the spring of next year, it’s time for a new CIO that will make it a priority.

Posted in Technology | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment