Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ category

The 30 second culture quiz

March 26, 2013

I have seen a lot of effort, perhaps rightly so, being dedicated lately to either deciding “what kind of culture” an organization has, or trying to change it to something that is “better” usually with terms like collaboration, teamwork, transparency and other uplifting words in the middle of it all.  Perhaps there’s a consultant or cultural survey involved, with lots of interviews, tests and indicators to guide you toward a deeper understanding of your culture.

Or…       You could try this.

Randomly walk up to just about anyone in the organization, and after exchanging pleasantries, tell them you’re working on an important project that is failing.

They will likely respond in one of two ways:

  1. Wow, that’s a shame, sorry to hear that.
  2. Is there anything I can do to help?

If most people respond with #1, you have a seriously problem with your corporate culture.  If they respond with an offer to help, without even knowing what the project is, what organizational boundaries it crosses, and whether they have any of the skills that you need to fix things, your culture is rock solid.

Thirty seconds, I promise…


Taking the field

February 27, 2013

Not too long ago, a college football coach was struggling with his team.  They had lost 4 games in a row and he felt like no one was pulling their weight.  So he decided to mix things up a bit.  On game day, he waited until his players ran out from the locker room and the tunnel onto the field.  He decided that whatever order the players came out of the locker room would be the position they would play for that game.  First 11 guys :  offense.  Next 11 guys:  defense.  Everyone else:  kick coverage and special teams.  He further decided that, from the first 11 guys, the very first guy on the field would be the quarterback.  Then the next two would be running backs.  The next three would be wide receivers.  And the last 5 would form the offensive line.

Now I suppose you’re thinking that this is some “feel good” story where every player excelled at their new position and they played as a team like never before.  And you would be wrong.  They got slaughtered and the coach got fired by the Athletic Director of the university for being incompetent.

As a leader in an organization, if you assign employees to projects and roles, especially critical ones, based on who’s available and not who is most skilled to perform in that specific role, you’re that coach…


February 14, 2013

Here’s my definition of bureaucracy.  It’s a simple one.  It’s “deliberately choosing process over problem solving.”

Imagine you walk into an Emergency Room, clearly having a heart attack.  Imagine the triage nurse hands you a form to fill out.  THAT is choosing process over problem solving.  And it doesn’t mean the form is not important.  I am sure that name, insurance, next of kin, etc. could matter a lot in the next hour or two.  Just don’t start there!

Sadly, I see this a lot in larger organizations.  They work hard on process.  Good for them!  It’s the right thing to do!  Consistency.  Rules.  Repeatability.  All good things.

But then, something strange happens.  When you need help to solve a problem, even an urgent one, you are often escorted to the Process Dungeon, where you are mercilessly shackled until you bow and swear fealty forever to the Process King (and fill out a form, submit a spreadsheet, whatever the King demands) at which time you will often, but not always, receive the help you need.

Then, the recipients of the solution to the problem that started this mess in the first place will ask you why it took so long to fix.  That’s my favorite part.

So the questions are:  Who’s sitting on the throne in your organization?  And are you a problem solver or the jailer…?

Stone Tablets

January 31, 2013

I had never wondered, until recently, what Moses felt like when he came down from the mountain with the Ten Commandments etched in stone on two large tablets.  I just assumed, like most of us, that the throng waiting for him at the bottom just said, “Wow, what a great idea.  These new guidelines are exactly how we should live our lives starting now.  Let’s get to it.  Great job, Mo!”

But I am starting to suspect that if you listened in to the crowd’s reaction, you’d hear comments a little more like this:

“We’re going to need some clarification on the first one.  That’s a little high level, don’t you think?”

“Stealing, huh?  I imagine he only means big stuff, right?”

“Why are there two for coveting?  Are those more important than the others?”

“I am a (fill in the blank – warrior, shepherd, servant, whatever) I don’t think those apply to me in my role in the camp.”

File:Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn 079.jpgI’ve had some recent experiences with corporate strategic objectives.  Typically, they are developed at an executive retreat (the modern day equivalent of Mount Horeb…) and handed down to the waiting masses with the expectation that they will provide a new and immediate way for employees to conduct themselves at work.   But I think many employees, on their own, have a hard time ‘connecting the dots’ so they can contribute to the accomplishment of the objectives.

So the questions are:  As a leader, have you taken the time to discuss what “bearing false witness” means to your team?  And as an employee, do you know what coveting is?  If you don’t, are you too intimidated by Moses to even ask him…?

The Parent Trap

January 17, 2013

First of all, I would like to apologize to my dedicated reader for taking almost a month hiatus from my last post.  You know, end of year, holidays, snorkeling off Antarctica, annual festival of the lychees in Myanmar, it adds up.

When you’re a kid, you have a secret weapon that you use from time to time, typically in dire situations where your very way of life or physical well being is at stake.  That’s right:  tattling.

I still remember hearing those fateful words every once in a while on the streets of Brooklyn years ago.  “I’m tellin…’”  Uh oh!

And sometimes it worked out.  Often, the perpetrator was punished by the parental unit who was the recipient of the ‘tell’ and you got to gloat or watch them suffer.  But sometimes…  you BOTH got punished.  The perpetrator for what he or she did; and you for tattling.  Risky business!

Fast forward.  In some respects, not much has changed.  As a team member at your organization, sooner or later you will observe behaviors that are detrimental to your team as a whole.  Could just be someone who goofs off a bit too much, has a bad attitude, whatever.  And you have to decide if “tattling” is your best option.  And as a leader, when you are made aware of these behaviors, who do you “punish?”

Side note:  I fully acknowledge that with recent legislation to protect whistleblowers, it is important that an organization encourage and protect employees who have the courage to bring egregious, or sometimes even criminal, behavior to the attention of management.  That’s not what I am talking about.

But I would remind you that the worst thing you can do as an employee is look the other way and justify to yourself that ‘it’s not your job’ to hold anyone else accountable for their actions and behaviors.  Quite the opposite!   I also think that running straight to your “up-lines” with every minor transgression is not smart either.

Check out some good tips for conflict resolution before calling in the big guns.  As you now know, as parents yourselves, they have enough to deal with…

Walking against the wind

December 20, 2012

My wife hates mimes.  I am not sure why.  First off, I don’t think she finds them clever or entertaining.  Perhaps when she was a kid, someone forced her to watch hours of Marcel Marceau.   Who knows?  In any case, one of the most famous things mimes do is “walk against the wind.”  They lean forward and give the appearance, in a still room, of walking into a very stiff breeze, fighting for every step forward.  Pretty clever, I think!

Several times this month, that’s what I felt like at work.  It seems that in some organizations, there are people or sometimes entire departments who believe they are the wind.   Their job is to make it seem like every step forward that you want to take is met with some mostly invisible resistance, so that a simple stroll turns into a Herculean effort. 

Here’s an example.  I saw an email today.   It was a reminder that everyone should make sure they have their invoices for 2012 approved and processed before the end of the year.  Fair enough!  But then, almost as some bizarre incentive to buckle down and get this done, it went on to instruct everyone that next year, the process for getting invoices processed was going to take LONGER!  They actually said that!

Managing projects, by definition, means implementing something new, changing a process, and generally disrupting the normal flow of things, hopefully with an improved outcome.   That’s hard enough.  For me, just once, I’d like to have a tailwind…

How about you all?  Pretty breezy in your company these days??

May the Air Force be with you

December 12, 2012

I realize this is like shooting fish in a barrel, but I can’t help but to call your attention to the latest mega-project gone bad story, this time involving the US Air Force and our friends from CSC, who apparently believe that WBS stands for “We Butcher Software…”

Here’s the ComputerWorld synopsis of how this one went.

Allow me to summarize some of the key reasons why the project has been cancelled, per the Air Force spokesperson:

  • they’ve been working on it since 2005
  • they have spent just over $1 billion dollars on it (yup, your money if you’re planning to pay taxes this year)
  • the new system was intended to replace over 200 existing “legacy” applications
  • they NOW estimate that to finish the project, it will cost an additional $1.1 billion dollars
  • and the best part, the extra $1.1 billion would get the Air Force 25% of the original planned features and be ready for field testing in 2020.

Rather than just piling on (fun as that might be) I really want to find something meaningful to say.  As unlikely as that is, here goes:

  1. if you’re working on a project that is going to take multiple years to deliver, develop a formal process INTENDED to cancel the project every six months, and force the vendors and project managers to justify continuing instead of the other way around.
  2. if you’re not in shape, don’t try to do 200 pushups the first day you decide to get back in shape.  Try for 10.  Maybe the system didn’t have to replace ALL 200 “legacy” applications in one fell swoop?  The article doesn’t exactly mention how many systems did get replaced, but I have a sneaking suspicion it’s zero.
  3. And by the way, next time you develop a spec to replace a ‘legacy system’ and you fail and the ‘legacy system’ is still running, maybe you should find a less pejorative term for it.  Like “functioning and inexpensive system that doesn’t do everything but also doesn’t land us on the front page of the NY Times.”

Jut remember, in both eating and systems development, if you bite off more than you can chew and swallow at once, you’re likely to choke…