Managing against the tide

November 8, 2009 3 comments

A few years ago before leaving the States for Asia, which was after the dot-bomb mushroom cloud was settling down, my good friend was repeatedly telling me that Asia was nothing like what the papers was telling me. Specifically, no matter what I was reading about the advancement of India or the so-called “Tiger economies”, the people were different and different from the ones I knew in the US. So this leads to the saying attributed to a friend of a friend was my indoctrination to the world of the Asian workplace – “I expect excuses and failures”.

And he was right, in a way you simply cannot imagine until you are here. Even now, I am still taken aback at times with the full impact of this simple truth.

This, creates major issues for me due to my personality style and my management style. One of my favorite bloggers, RandinRepose, wrote about this example (of me). He told a little story about a boss/mentor that he termed “The Leaper”. I’ve no doubt that some of my team members get this treatment unintentionally. Sometimes though, I use this style purposefully because it’s a bit like my law school socratic method (check out this great story of it in practice) – an excellent teaching methodology IMO.

But anyways, readng Rand’s illustration of his Leaper boss was like looking at myself in the mirror in ways I was uncomfortable (because I don’t like being “aggressive” in this manner) with but there I am/was – “Hello there!” Hmmm. Yup, definitely a thinking moment…because it’s a point where some action or plan is just soo needed. Hmmm.

While it makes me uncomfortable with this, I’m a bit at a loss in terms of how else to move people who are content – fat, dumb, and happy. The easy answer is to replace them, but the pool of talent is from the same pond. So, fishing will only get more of the same. Thus, it seems that the answer is to breed new species.

So how do you deliver this change? Wendy Mason’s “change management blog” has some good reads and this one – DELIVER THE CHANGE – A CHECK LIST FOR BEING A GOOD CHANGE AGENT – was pretty inspired. And the man in the mirror looks back and says, “who”?

“If it is to be, it is up to me” sums up nicely then. Quoting Ralph Stayer, CEO of Johnsonville Foods and co-author of Flight of the Buffalo which goes like this:

If it is to be, it is up to me.
If it is up to me, it shall be.

On this note, theres many fantastic bloggers and writers out there that help those practicing management and leadership day-in-day-out can be better equipped. Some of them in my blogroll and RSS Feed. Here are two I’d like to share:

  • Ten Principles of Leadership from Sith Sigma Blog that I referenced HERE,
  • and

  • 5 Habits That Help Cultivate Greatness from The Daily Mind.
  • Seems the tide is getting bigger and bigger, nearly tsunami effect, threatening to wash away so much that’s been laid down. We’ll just have to prepare, hunker down, and dig just that much deeper inside. Still, the question remains in many people’s mind, when will these changes stop? As Bob Sutton says, change will never be over, but that begs the question I think which is, “Are the changes always necessary or need to be so interminably long? You can only remodel your home so much before you figure out that it’s time to just move out completely to a new home and stop with the tinkering! Change it and change it once and let the change take hold and bedded down. If you have to change so frequently, then I would say, that you probably screwed up.

    As the world turns


    The awesomeness of the Milky Way galaxy and its stars

    November 1, 2009 Leave a comment

    The panorama’s creator, Dr. Axel Mellinger of Central Michigan University, spent 22 months and traveled over 26,000 miles to take digital photographs at dark sky locations in South Africa, Texas and Michigan. I just had to share this piece of work by him to my blog readers.


    3000 panoramic images of our Milky Way - Dr. Axel Mellinger

    Let us dream and dream big!

    Categories: Uncategorized

    Yellowing Leaves

    October 31, 2009 1 comment

    It’s autumn back Stateside and I miss it always – it’s my favorite season. Here are some nice youtube vids of Autumn back “home” and other places.

    Categories: Uncategorized

    Wuxi iCarnegie Institute in China

    October 29, 2009 1 comment

    I just came back from a China visit and had an opportunity to participate in a ground breaking event involving my alma mater, Carnegie Mellon University. They’ve recently partnered up to launch in China a new iCarnegie Institute in Wuxi, China.

    There’s a lot of exciting things going on in China and certainly seeing the development speed is both an eye-opener and a sobering experience. No doubt that there are big ambitions, big money, big energy to meet China’s big vision. Yet as with any development process, there are also big gaps, big needs, big challenges. In short, lots of opportunities.


    Wuxi iCarnegie Institute Oct 2009

    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.

    Business Excellence = Operational Accountability = Caring and Focused Employees

    October 23, 2009 Leave a comment

    Do you ever wonder why corporate lunancy exists and what can be done about it? It starts with the people IMHO. This latest post from the Six Discipline Blog I believe focuses on the right things – back to basics for the individual(s), the grunts, the ““business centurions”” Wally Bock praises, that make organizations excel and be a great place work.

    BOTTOMLINE: Organizational accountability eliminates the tendency to make excuses and shift blame. When employees make clear and specific commitments for their own work, entire organizations become aligned and achieve specific measurable results.

    1. Accountability is a Statement of Personal Promise.
    2. Accountability for Results Means Activities Aren’t Enough
    3. Accountability for Results Requires Room for Judgment and Decision Making.
    4. Accountability is Neither Shared nor Conditional.
    5. Accountability for the Organization as a Whole Belongs to Everyone.
    6. Accountability is Meaningless Without Consequences.

    So how can we take care and develop our people the right way? Lots have been written to be sure on the leadership development front. I like the list from Dan McCarthy who recently posted 30 Challenges That Can Develop Leaders. In particular, I’d like to emphasize his summary from “The Lessons of Experience” book. It’s a new book for me and will definitely be checking it out. In my limited exposure to date, the ones who were worth modeling after and follow had a lot of those kinds of experiences. These folks are the colleagues, teammates, and good bosses to work with and work for.

    Are you on-board?

    Categories: Leadership, Management

    The Matrix and IT Management

    October 22, 2009 Leave a comment

    It’s been a really busy year for me with conferences and summits and we’re just starting Q4 and there’s another couple more months of conferences and summits coming up in Hong Kong.

    Earlier this year, I got nabbed by some marketeers from Brocade Communications to attend their APAC (Asia Pacific) roadshow for their Extraordinary Networks campaign to educate the enterprise sector of their acquisition of Foundry Networks. There’s a lot of good stuff in there which you can find about here, here and here. I don’t normally and actually loathe to write up specifically about technology partners. The reason for this is because I prefer to keep neutral and agnostic about my dealings with the supply side of IT. I’m a pretty principled best-of-breed technologist when it comes to building my IT “real-estate”.

    On this point, I recently was honored to have been invited to the Marcus Evans 2nd Annual CIO Summit held Oct 6-8 in Macau. Key topics of the conference touched upon:

  • CIO Innovation – Conceptualising IT infrastructure to be the epicentre of achieving organisational efficiency and productivity
  • Globalization of IT – Analysing the impact of globalisation on business trends that rely on data management to provide greater competitive advantage
  • IT Architecture Evolution – Transitioning away from legacy systems and integrating emerging technologies to facilitate modernization
  • IT Fortification – Maximizing network security to enable business continuity and minimize critical data loss Next Generation Investments – Adopting innovative technology to enhance the core infrastructure of a business
  • IT Governance – Ensuring value delivery, monitoring accountability and complying with regulation
    Strategic Redeployment – Evaluating the impact of migrating critical data infrastructure
  • Redesigning Service Level Agreements – Institutionalising a framework that supports durational and financial flexibility
  • Storage Resource Management – Implementing efficient data storage practices to reduce costs and increase productivity
  • Information Value Chain – Developing dynamic communication collaboration to facilitate efficient knowledge distribution and management
  • Reputational Excellence – Ensuring high levels of data management and information delivery to avoid image erosion
  • As the opening keynote speaker of the summit, I tried to set the tone and breathe of the IT topics and issues many senior IT leaders face at some level in their professional life. The topic, I spoke on was in the IT architecture area: Pursuing Versatile IT Architecture to Effectively Respond to Economic Expansion and Contraction. The thrust of my presentation featured “The Matrix” into the principles of IT architecture. I also included my own version of the 7 IT Management layers as translated from the OSI Network layers framework. This was my “IT management for dummies” response to people in my team and outside my team as well as a personal effort to come to grips with the whole daunting IT Governance body of knowledge out there.

    In summary, I covered the following key points:

  • Business Challenges
  • CIO – Business Architect
  • Choice: Technology, Process, People
  • Balanced IT Design
  • Case Brief
  • At first, I discussed the importance of having a good solid understanding of the business context – challenges, environmental factors – that your IT function is operating in (see Porter’s 5 Forces Modeling). Not surprising many of the CIOs in the conference are laboring under severe budgetary constraints. I mean seriously, how much “do more with less” can one stomach? I battled my turf with as blunt of a tool I could think of – “Cut my budget any more and I’m going to be cutting off your email and internet. Is that ok with you?” It was a wake up call because in the death march of corporate cost cutting, sometimes, you’re on auto-pilot that you and your finance colleagues need to be shaken out of the funk. Being a corporate lemming is not my idea of fun, thank you very much.

    Second, I delved in the role of the “business architect” and I may be really bold and brash by saying so. The context of this starts here with the conversation between Neo and The Architect in “The Matrix Reloaded”.

    From this it leads to the difficult problem we all face: CHOICE. Choice of people, choice of technologies, choice of processes. Wrong choices and we’re forced to contemplate “levels of survivability” and “rebooting” our own Business/IT Matrix. But this is not all we face because in each of these choices are other levels of choices and we find ourselves going dow different “rabbit holes” and where we end up, who knows? Overarching simple design principles – (a) alignment with Business Strategy and (b) future proof + present relevancy and performance of the IT real-estate – can help us with our choices, but they’re not so easily applied. This is because each of the 3 main CHOICES we have, they have 3 other major constraints to be applied in the analysis:

  • (i) Management complexity
  • (ii) Accountability/Responsibility
  • (iii) Cost
  • So in one’s IT Design evaluation of the ultimate “Matrix” there are futher questions:
    1. What’s the Matrix you’re aiming to build?
    2. Can you procure the people, technology to enable the Matrix?
    3. Implementation hurdles which mainly in my view revolve around “control”

    Finally, I wrapped up my 40 minute by discussing an on-going case in a high level illustrating some of these ideas at work. If you want to know more, you can view my presentation on Slideshare.