Archive for the ‘Leadership & People’ Category

TED Talk by Jane McGonigal: Gaming can make a better world

April 2, 2010 Leave a comment

It really has been a long while since I blogged. The usual life and work suspects to blame which I suppose isn’t enough explanation for the several months of absence. Glad to be back and nothing like having another TED2010 Talk classic to move me to blog it. Jane’s talk about gaming and making the world, life, and people better hit the sweet spot.

The key points which bear remembering are:

  • 1. Passion and energy are often neglected or dismissed as irrelevant in the drive for all things “better”.
  • 2. Gaming is an wonderfully liberating way to teach and to learn. Try it sometime and don’t be afraid to let others try as well.
  • 3. The inner creative genius in all of us can be stimulated through “play”. Gaming like WoW or in my own gaming life, Ultima, Wizardry, Netrek, Pinball, Chess, can develop team-skills, analytical smarts, discipline, self-confidence, community and leadership skills.
  • Nowadays I find that the emphasis in education is away from play and more toward standardization, memorization but this is a mistake. Innovation, creativity, the lack of fear of failure are losing out because it’s hard work. And likewise, gaming is hard work but necessary and from Jane’s inspirational case for more gaming efforts to be used and harnessed.

    Unleash your inner-gamer!

    Another primer on managing technical guys & gals

    October 29, 2009 Leave a comment

    An amazing opinion piece from ComputerWorld was recommended through one of my project management newslists – Newgrange: It’s titled “The unspoken truth about managing geeks“. It’s an even better piece than the one I blogged about here.

    For sure, the amount of comments on and off the site is very strong. And I totally understand the bashing because it’s self-aggrandizing to the “Amen” responses. IT folks really are quite diverse but I like to think that there are much more similarities than not based on my limited experiences in different countries, industries, and technical/management teams.

    My personal view is that the author Jeff Ello has got it totally right – not just the analysis but also where it starts: It’s all about respect. Just break down this analysis:

    Few people notice this, but for IT groups respect is the currency of the realm. IT pros do not squander this currency. Those whom they do not believe are worthy of their respect might instead be treated to professional courtesy, a friendly demeanor or the acceptance of authority. Gaining respect is not a matter of being the boss and has nothing to do with being likeable or sociable; whether you talk, eat or smell right; or any measure that isn’t directly related to the work. The amount of respect an IT pro pays someone is a measure of how tolerable that person is when it comes to getting things done, including the elegance and practicality of his solutions and suggestions. IT pros always and without fail, quietly self-organize around those who make the work easier, while shunning those who make the work harder, independent of the organizational chart.

    1. For sure, when I was as tech grunt, that’s how I felt about the respect to others, especially managers. I also saw it, heard it from others. IT teams are pretty ruthless when it comes to people who can’t “fit in” with the rest of the team. “Fitting in” can mean many things but the social dynamics of IT teams can be pretty brutal.
    2. As a manager of technical guys, I learned first hand about “earning your stripes” because there are always more technical guys than you. The process repeats itself at each stop along the IT management journey.
    3. As part of the IT team, you always are building relationships with those who can get it done. Because the environment is so much about firefighting, it’s a totally Darwinian world. No one likes to burn during IT service outages, user problems etc and so the ones who can prevent fires and/or fight fires quickest are “the best”. These folks in my experience become the tight-knit high performing teams that makes IT a well-oiled machine we strive for.
    4. The last statement that IT-pros “quietly self-organize around those who make the work easier, while shunning those who make the work harder, independent of the organizational chart.” is the heart of what gives life to “Shadow IT”. Check out Mike Schaffner’s excellent commentary about the Shadow IT topic.

    It’s a definite read for anyone curious about IT and get a wide spectrum of the views.

    However, one part of the article Jeff wrote which bears repeating:

    Users need to be reminded a few things, including:

    * IT wants to help me.
    * I should keep an open mind.
    * IT is not my personal tech adviser, nor is my work computer my personal computer.
    * IT people have lives and other interests.

    Results Matter – What performance?

    September 21, 2009 4 comments

    The blogosphere kicked up some good posts recently on this topic. It follows on my previous post on Management and Drucker. Drucker had written about results and performance in “Managing for Results” and it’s companion “The Effective Executive“. As I rant about the corporate lunancy rampant through the ranks, it goes back to these questions and topics.

    Let’s start with, do you know where you’re heading and what the end-game vision is to be? That’s like the horizon and the north star to help guide the captain of the boat (yes, that would be you so wake up and focus!). I like how Stacey Douglas blogged about it in her take on Results Matter:

    You simply cannot manage what you don’t understand, nor can you delegate it or request updates on it. Understand and manage to results, not to line items on a task list.

    For the management folks, take heed to these wise words – thanks to Jonathan Becher for sharing it:

    “It is an immutable law in business that words are words, explanations are explanations, promises are promises—but only performance is reality.”
    Harold S. Geneen, 1910-1997, communications executive

    “The man who starts out going nowhere, generally gets there.”
    Dale Carnegie, 1888-1955, author and pioneer in self-improvement and interpersonal skills

    So, drop the powerpoint, step away from the excel sheet, stop the MS Word document/memo, and walk away from the email. We’re mindless manipulators of meaningless meditations. Focus – 5Ws (Who, What, Where, Why, When) + 2Hs (How, How many). It’s appalling how so many folks can’t start their analysis with this and seemingly go off the deep end down the rabbit hole because they simply don’t know where the organization needs to go and what should be done to get there. One cannot simply delegate that thinking to others. Want sheep then go to New Zealand.

    Know why you are here. Why the company or organization you belong to is here. Mission – Vision > leads to rolling up the sleeves and doing stuff that gets the results directly impacting and affecting the company’s performance be it in dollars, customer satisfaction, sales, new innovations and patents, but it’s got to be SMART.

    I close today’s musings with reference the latest CEO and leadership profile from Adam Bryant’s Corner Office column. Read the interview of Linda Hudson, president of the land and armaments group for BAE Systems, a military contractor.

    IT Management and Culture (in an Asian context)

    August 1, 2009 4 comments

    My blogging has been mostly off recently due to trying to achieve work-life balance by re-prioritizing things, get some vacation time in between projects and upcoming management activities, and figuring out what are the things important to me. Some good cave time to be had is good for the soul and recharging the mind and calming one’s emotions. Getting some inner peace is a good exercise.

    Last week, I participated in an IT Forum that a network company sponsored to introduce to their customers and interested IT professionals their new products and services. Additionally, it was a forum for just general sharing amongst IT professionals about common IT issues. I facilitated the second part of it and found it to be great fun and glad I did.

    We had a wide ranging group of professionals – technical experts, IT operations folks to very senior ASPAC level IT Directors and CIOs. It was an open sharing format and to get such a diverse group of people to open up was super stuff.

    We discussed in hopscotch fashion:

    1. Business change – faster and sharper than before?
    a. How to manage it? Personally, organizationally? Or just be like a jelly-fish?

    2. Cost-savings/Budget reductions –> IT Governance
    a. More systems integration, consolidation, legacy consolidation
    b. Where are the pressures hitting? infra? apps? security? people? outsourcing?
    c. How to manage long term IT needs vs. short-term tactical requirements
    d. How to prioritize, what to prioritize?

    3. Staff retention / hiring
    a. Roles and responsibilities changing
    b. Skills sets raised higher?
    c. Status of the IT Director?

    4. IT innovation – avoid latest & greatest or continue to push for innovation in our IT operations, services, infrastructure, technology to better serve?

    From the crowd mood, personally and organizationally, the super fast change of the business and IT environments was creating major stress points. In fact, one of the participants shared that after 20 years, this forced him out and look to do something other than IT. And nearly everyone expressed similar types of this sentiment – the personal difficulty facing today’s IT environment and secretive longing to also leave IT for other pastures.

    One very senior IT manager asked the audience whether or not IT managers are treating IT staff well? That’s a brave question to ask and I commend him for asking.*

    On this point, I would say that in an Asian context, most managers I see, are not supporting or supportive of IT staff. I believe it is culturally rooted – short term thinking, coupled with a poor view on talent development, and treating people as commodities that can be easily replaced – are fundamental reasons for why quite a few IT people I know in this part of the world are not optimistic in an IT career.

    Discouraging yes, but hopefully this can change as economic and business prospects turn around for the better. But, there is a central need IMHO to find a better way to develop IT profesionals, promote greater IT maturity because it’s a key foundation for long term sustained business success. And this for us in Asia is an on-going concern always in an ever-increasing competitive business world.

    * Note: I recently was explaining to a promising junior helpdesk talent in my team the criticality of upward communication, especially when news is bad. There’s strong cultural pressure in Asia to not speak up when news is bad. Undertanding this, I countered with this: “If you don’t speak up, then you will keep living in shit. That’s guaranteed. Do you want to keep living in shit every day?” But I said by the same token, “if you do speak up and management doesn’t listen and fix things, then management is shit.” Both needs attention and he and I agreed that it takes two-sides to make the future better so let’s give it a try.

    And this fits into today’s Brainy Quote:

    Ben Sweetland
    “Success is a journey, not a destination.”
    Maya Angelou
    “Nothing will work unless you do.”

    RIP – Rajeev Motwani, Google founder’s professor and early investor, dies

    June 7, 2009 Leave a comment

    This is worth a separate mention.  While Sergey and Larry certainly should get their due recognition for Google, the fact is, it’s often the people behind the entrepreneurs that really “make or break” the startup.  Such is the life of Silicon Valley startups – your VC is equally critical to your success – hence the need to find the very best.

    With out Motwani’s influence would Google have been as successful?  I shudder to think life without Google – it’s been that powerful and transformative in our generation.

    Check out Techstartups 3.0 obit.

    MBA Oath & Masters of Barely Anything

    June 7, 2009 3 comments

    I couldn’t help myself on this blog post. The article “A Promise to Be Ethical in an Era of Immorality” from New York Times, May 29, just triggered a mental conniption in my head. It follows the efforts of Harvard MBA grad Max Anderson and his fellow classmates in their pledge to not advance their “own narrow ambitions” in an MBA Oath.

    What a bunch of fringe lunatics really. These folks don’t have anything to show for from of their truly expensive education? That supposedly among the best and brightest feel compelled to taking an “oath” will somehow make them more ethical than before they got into the program and graduated? We got ourselves a bunch of genius’ for sure.

    For the corporate hiring managers world-wide, here are the 651 losers to-date who you will definitely NOT want to hire.

    I promise you, taking the oath won’t make any of the 651 more ethical than before they entered Harvard. And, that is perhaps the saddest testimony from this whole embarrassing tale. We have sown a generation of “future leaders” that out-Gecko, Gordon Gecko!

    NOTE: The terminology “Masters of Barely Anything” came from a July 12, 2004 BusinessWeek article. I liked the following book reviews – by Eric Nehrlich, an unrepentant generalist, and Jim Stroup, author of Managing Leadership.

    Quick blog update – Back in the saddle

    September 8, 2008 1 comment

    Dear readers,

    Past couple of weeks, I’ve been busy with filling my own gas tank while also navigating the way forward. As my team likes to joke with me, for-better-or-for-worse, I’m now the captain of the ship… the Titanic ship to be exact.

    Sometimes gallows humor can help ease the daily grind but it can also be as happy as a ice cold shower during the winter time (sorry, I’m not a polar bear!). Juggling the here and now with the there and after, I brought the team together for a couple of days and figure out what we have and what we want to do and how we want to go about doing it. The other part of it was getting key folks (re)acquainted with the ABCS of business financials – specifically, the business case.

    While we struggle with the change management aspect of companies adjusting to harsh business challenges and other realities, we need to find an anchor point to tie it all together. Otherwise, the loss of focus and meaning for why we are here every day will take a huge toll on the organizational effectiveness and health. I decided to peg the anchor on understanding the business – namely what, why, when, how part of what we do – finding meaning through understanding the business case surrounding our BAU and Projects/Portfolios. Then as a team we can better prioritize and figure out what we are doing right and wrong (and even missing altogether).

    So far, the impact was quite positive. One of the best part was listening to the troops, I actually had some of my perceptions shot down or seriously altered. That’s a good health check result for any manager or leader. As I’m fond of saying, 20 brains are better than 1 (see Francis Galton on his work that the wisdom of the masses is better than a single expert – Simon Kuper writes in FT Sept 5 2008).

    Setting up the IT organization for success – Part 1

    August 22, 2008 1 comment

    Continuing the series started from the past few posts this week*, we started with the situation of Building an IT team/organization – namely how would one go about it. (Incidentally, I think this is generic enough to apply to any organization, not just IT.) Drawing from various sources, I looked at startings points to help me construct a blueprint, a framework to start the process. At the end of a pretty tortuous route, it seems that the key guiding point was to build for organizational sustainability**. Perhaps it seems like a commonsensical if not obvious approach, but I can’t say for certain that most managers and leaders hire with this intention in mind. Often times, I hazard to say that managers hire for immediate need, not long term sustainability. (If you asked me what is “long term”, I’ve no idea exactly what it is. For me, it seems that we’re talking about a period greater than 24 months but less than 48 months.)

    Characteristics of an organization built for sustainability means that we would have to get a “diverse mix of skills, capabilities, expertise, personalities togethers as broadly and deeply as possible” in place. That’s quite an order:
    1. Skills & Capabilities – Soft skills
    2. Expertise – Functional/Technical/Business know-how
    3. Personalities – psychometric testing for “chemistry” – knowing the Dr. Jekylls and Mr. Hydes in your team seems awfully sensible but why so many organizations don’t use them? I tend to prefer the 4 quadrant tests such as DISC, because it is KISS and satisfies the 80-20 Rule. However, I’ve taken other tests as well such as Belbin Team Roles and MBTI*** and are all useful in their own way.

    So now that we’ve got the blueprint, it’s time to find people – based on one’s own competencies and capabilities defined in your foundational blueprint. Personally, after the technical expertise questions out of the way, I go straight into behavioral interviewing mode. That’s not exactly the prescribed methodology but I prefer it when I’m trying to understand how the person ticks and whether or not they’ve got transferable skills. This is important in IT because the IT individual I’m looking for is (1) a generalist in outlook and (2) a technologist at heart. For good measure I throw in some work-related hypothetical scenarios to see how they problem solve. This means that on average I will spend approximately 3-5 hours (my company runs an HR assessment center which I sit in on) with any candidate before being hired. This may seem excessive, but the cost of wrong hires do a lot of organizational damage that may be fatal, especially at management grade levels. Failure is not an option.

    So, now you’ve identified the folks for your organization and have hired them on board, all ready, willing and able to go…where no man has gone before? Star Trek missions don’t work so well in corporate life usually so you need to have to continue building – directional setting now, mission, vision, values/culture.

    The last, values/culture, to me is the key****. Mission and vision will change. But values/culture are/should be enduring and the bedrock for an organization to succeed and thrive even when the going is tough. It’s elusive and difficult for a manager to instill. Hence the leadership question comes into play. What does one do?

    Stay tuned for Part 2 as the journey unfolds…

    *See Article 1, Article 2, Article 3
    **An example of organizational sustainability comes from Vincent van Wylick’s nice story on what makes a good sports coach:

    In my opinion, the important qualities of sports-coaches are these three things, and I hope they translate to other disciplines as well:

    Knowing your craft really well;
    Planning for different abilities in your team;
    Making your craft transparent so others can take over

    If you make yourself obsolete to the organization, you’ve achieved the ideal model of organizational sustainability.

    *** I’m an INTJ
    **** Check out Scott Berkin’s interview with Grant McCracken on winning by studying culture.

    (Successful) IT People Characteristics

    August 20, 2008 9 comments

    Lightning strikes again, I’m amazed at the prolification of posts on this topic all within 72 hours. There must be some forces at work that compel me to continue blogging away at this…

    In any event, browsing through my blogroll, I happened upon the good folks (that is right, it’s a tag team over there) from They posted a fantastic summary of basically what qualities/characteristics make a good IT person (i.e. that you’d hire in a second). In my previous posts on IT Competencies and Building IT Team, I hadn’t gotten there yet, but drawing the framework further before deep diving into the nuts and bolts of the highly subjective person-level. 

    As far as I tried NOT to project myself, I think the ITMindDesign bloggers hit it spot on. Their points also provide useful interviewing questions to see that you’ve got the right, talented person for your high-performing team.

    1. Passion: (To survive and thrive in an IT combat zone, uh sorry, environment, you need to love it or be nuts to work in a fire fight daily because you definitely do not get combat pay for it.)

    2. Self-teaching and love of learning: (Technology changes as frequently and often as your underwear.  If you don’t love to learn or teach yourself, you’ll be as obsolete as the 5 1/4″ floppy.)

    3. Intelligence: (Uh, duh?)

    4. Hidden experience: (IT guys do a lot of their own experimenting and fooling around.  It’s in their genes.  This is often not on the resume because they learned somewhere that resumes don’t have such information – maybe blame recruiters.  But through the interview you’ll find out they’ve done a hell lots more than what’s on their resumes.  Dig after it and you might actually find a diamond in the rough. w00t!)

    5. Variety of technologies: (Yes, just look at what you’ve got to play with – telephony gear, network equipment like VPN boxes, routers, switches, servers of all shapes and sizes, half a dozen major OS’s, databases, applications, IT security/firewalls, email technologes and the list goes on and on.  If you don’t have the passion to play and learn about it, you’re d-e-a-d dead.)

    6. (Lack of) Formal qualifications: (This one I’ve found over here in Asia where tech guys are certified out-the-wazoo.  It’s insane the number of MS and Cisco certs these guys have on their resumes.  And every now and then you find some guy walking in with SUN and HP certifications.  I actually had to look them up myself just to check if they were real.  But this gets fun, with all these certs, my senior tech guys (with ZERO certs) have lots to shoot at.  And shoot they do… in reality it’s unfair because it’s not good sport shooting fish in a barrel.  My senior tech guys are all certified summa cum laude black-and-blue from the School of Hard Knocks.  Yeah, they touched the fire and yup, fire is indeed burning flaming hot.  So try to BS them and you might as well take that rope and…

    I’ve another experience with certifications from my early dot-com days.  A “senior” system admin was working on a portal project for us.  This H1-B guy was SUN certified which was just perfect because we were having some issues around building a portal on a SUN box.  So we assigned him to rescue this project due to his SUN certification and senior credentials.  Before long, we found out something was wrong.  My project manager, a true PaiMei Guy, was alarmed at how little progress there was.  So in a side conversation, Indian to Indian, he found out that this “senior” SUN certified system admin had never actually physically worked on a live SUN box before (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!). Holy #&*$!@^%!!!   From that day henceforth, I’ve discounted any and all certifications on resumes that come before me (with a couple of exceptions).)

    7. Self-confidence vs Hubris: (I call this stubbornness.  We’re all smart right.  We’re all superman or superwoman – especially in our minds.  There’s nothing we can’t do, really just give me the time and…  We not only graduated from the School of Hard Knocks but we conquered it! Tech-maschismo {flex}!  “Can-do attitude”!  Heady stuff… and I had one super talented tech guy with these warm fuzzy feelings.  He thought he could rewire the network cabling after doing some minor fix/upgrade to our routers.  The problem is that it ended up as a spaghetti network. Admittedly half-way through, this smart guy realized he was in sooo-deep, he couldn’t back out so he bull-dozed his way to the end.  Amazingly, he managed to get them all connected the right way and just in time for start of the business day… but…. After I was done with him, he will never ever do such a bone-headed move again without taking the right preparation steps.  To his credit, he went back and did it right in the next down time window.  He learned. School of hard-knocks graduates yet another successful IT Geek!) 

    8. Star-Trek test: (It’s so true… it’s weird.  How could you not like:

    Capt Kirk and Crew

    Capt Kirk and Crew

    My off-the-wall personal projection is that we all imagine ourselves as Capt Kirk, with his machismo, his fearlessness, his visionary leadership leading the team into the exciting unknown.  We’re curious explorers at heart, wondering how things tick in our universe.  The unknown doesn’t scare us, just makes us more determined to get to the truth!

    Let’s go get them!  Who wouldn’t want to be a part of THIS TEAM?  Especially if you can build one like it, right?


    ADDENDUM: I forgot one important other quality to add to the above list.  9. Perseverence: Rain or shine like the US Postal Service, IT folks go out there and just get the job done.  Sometimes with ammo, often without enough ammo.  Heck, most IT guys need to operate in the equivalent of a hot LZ with enemy and friendly fire coming their way.  And there’s usually no calvary or air-cover coming to their aid.  Toiling anonymously like “greasemonkeys” is often the life for so many guys in the trenches.  You need guys who can do this day-in-day-out.  As one of my best guys says, “I’m a cockroach.  You can’t kill me.  I’m a survivor.”  How can you not love a guy like that!

    Managing in Economic Tough Times revisited

    August 15, 2008 3 comments

    For sharing on a theme I recently blogged about, a good post from thesavvyPM titled: Project Tips: Leadership through Turbulent Times.

    Commonalities exist between project managers and traditional line managers (shouldn’t be a surprise as both roles involve “management”). thesavvyPM mentions several good points for those in the hot seat, what to think of and know, and I paraphrase here:
    1. Leadership qualities one needs to exhibit
    2. Acceptance of the realities and prepare for the times
    3. Establishing a sense of urgency (she mentions crisis)
    4. New business strategy
    5. Open communications and involvement through the changes


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