Category Archives: technology

How Opinionated are your Tools?

Organizations must intentionally determine how opinionated their collaboration tools (business systems) should be, to align with their culture and business model. Opinionated tools align well with top-down organizational cultures, while non-opinionated tools align well with decentralized, self-organizing cultures.

Organizations struggle at each extreme:

  1. Top-down organizations struggle to scale effectively, creating bottlenecks and issues when decisions constantly require senior leader approvals.  People talk about how our world is more volatile and faster moving (see Half of S&P 500 Companies will be Replaced in next 10 years), and that companies need to be more Agile.  Agility is hard when you need 3 approval signatures to make any changes. scaled-frameworks.PNG
  2. Self-organized teams struggle to stay coordinated, as each team can “wander off” from any centralized approach to things like enterprise priorities, technology architecture, processes.  They struggle to stay aligned with each other, which is why we see so many Scaled Agile frameworks (see icon mosaic to the right) trying to figure out how to keep self-organizing teams aligned with each other.  Self-organizing teams also struggle to stay aligned across an organization related to things like Enterprise Architecture (consistent technologies) and Business Architecture (consistent processes).

Organizations need to find the right balance between these two extremes for their entire organizational culture, and how they select, configure, and maintain tools to align with this approach.  The figure below shows the spectrum I envision, where a company moves the triangle to find the spot they want their organization to be, and then aligns tools with that spot on the spectrum.

opinionated tools spectrum.PNG

Technologies can come out of the box very opinionated (think about a tool like the TurboTax wizard interface, that walks users through a workflow it decides without asking how you want to use the tool) or it can be very flexible (think about Microsoft Word — you can write your letter first, and then format it; or you can setup the page size, orientation, and header before you write your letter).

Technologies can also be configured to be very opinionated — JIRA as an example is an issue/ticket tracking system that has a variety of Agile planning/management capabilities.  Out of the box, the tool comes with a few standard ticket types and workflows, but you could let each team in your organization configure their own ticket types, workflows; leaving all the permissions wide open for the organization.  However, most organizations make JIRA “more opinionated” before they deploy it, only letting a few select leaders/administrators make changes to the system.

On the opinionated this spectrum, I see organizations selecting and configuring tools with a heavy focus on ensuring employees use a tool exactly the way the organization’s senior leaders want them to be used (highly opinionated).   Allan Kelly recently write a great post about how dangerous this power centralization can become for organizations.

On the non-opinionated side, organizations struggle to stay cohesive.  They can become organizations of individual teams or almost a group of consultants who are trying to accomplish things; but can’t leverage the scale of their organization to accomplish great things.  This can devolve into anarchy, where teams don’t help each other.  Think about a team who can’t share talent with other teams, because they’re using different processes or technologies.  Or a leader who isn’t able to report on progress because each of her teams is using their project tracking tool completely differently.

Organizations, and the Office of the CIO organizations that should be enabling them, need find the balance, like a train station where the rules of engagement are clear (Where do I get a ticket? Where do I get on the train? Where do I get food?), but different people can get to their trains in different ways.  Organizations don’t have to be the wild west with teams doing whatever they want (think about a SharePoint site with no governance where you can’t find anything) and organizations don’t need to be top-down culture where no work gets done because everyone has given up on requesting approvals and resigns themselves to the slow-moving status-quo.

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Using JIRA to Scale your Business

I recently spoke at the 2017 Capability Counts conference, put on by the CMMI Institute. David Anderson Keynote 2017.PNG It’s an interesting event that isn’t focused just on CMMI maturity models — instead it’s a conference where a few hundred people get together to discuss process improvement, Agile, software engineering processes, and a variety of other related topics.

The keynote (shown in the picture above) is David Anderson of LeanKanban University talking about the core concepts of Kanban, which go far beyond most people’s understanding of 3 column boards.

I spoke on using Atlassian’s JIRA product to help an organize scale — sharing some best practices/recommendations on how to use a tool like JIRA to get information out of email, hallway conversations, and meetings and into a system where work can be clarified, prioritized and tracked.

CIO 101 for Entrepreneurs

This morning I got to share IT infrastructure, business strategy, and business
architecture tips and recommendations with some local current and future entrepreneurs at The Capitol Post in Old Town Alexandria.  Capitol Post is a great organization focused on inspiring Veteran entrepreneurs to find professional clarity and scale those visions.  They offer several great things, including  a cool co-working space right in North Old Town Alexandria, classes, and a startup accelerator program.

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Here are the slides and strategy template I went through with the group this morning, helping entrepreneurs deal with IT.   We talked about:

We talked about how IT for non-technical entrepreneurs can be like personal finance for non-financial people — it’s very important, but it’s hard to motivate yourself to invest the time you need to understand it, make some solid plans, automate it, and then move on to creating value.

It’s been a year since I last taught at Capitol Post (https://mikehking.com/2015/09/11/talking-technology-bunker-labs/), and it’s great to see how much they’ve grown (the office is beautiful and their getting ready for their next cohort to go through the Bunker Labs DC accelerator.

How to Pick IT Systems for your Small Business

If you’re the CIO, Director of Technology, IT Person, or Only Person (Solopreneur) at your organization, here are 5 areas of questions areas to consider when determining if a specific IT system or process would align with your small company’s needs:

  1. Alignment:  Does this system align with your business model (how you do business) and your current infrastructure?
  2. Lock In:  Would this system lock you (Vendor lock-in) into this vendor or system long-term?  Could you export your data and move to another system as you grow?
  3. Investment-worthy:  Is this system worth the investment of money and time (your time, your employees’ time, your customers’ time?
  4. Get Traction:  Would this system get traction with your employees and/or customers?  Does it align with how you do business, or would you spend your time forcing people to use it?
  5. No Huge Risks:  Are there any significant risks (red flags, deal-breakers) that should drive you away from this system? (e.g. cyber security, loss or productivity, removes future options you want)

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Shameless plug:  If you’re interested in learning more about setting up the technology for your company, or future startup, check out this free class I’m teaching next week (Thursday, Sept 10, 2015), sponsored by Capitol Post, in Old Town Alexandria:  Technology 101 for Entrepreneurs (How to Choose to the Best Systems for your Business).

How does a CTO Spend Time?

I’ve recently realized that I’ve been drawing a similar pie graph several times recently, explaining how I spend my time as a Chief Technology Officer (CTO) at a small business.  I thought I’d share for those interested in how I spend my time juggling the demands of CTO across various company priorities.

CTO_time

If you’re interested in learning more about small business CTO activities, including technology strategy when you’re too small to have a dedicated CTO, check out this free, upcoming training in Old Town Alexandria, sponsored by Capitol Post, that I’m teaching next month (Sept 2015):  Technology 101 for Entrepreneurs (How to Choose to the Best Systems for your Business).

Small Business Cyber Security 101

Way back in 2009, NIST released a 20 page document that is a great set of fundamental
recommendations for small business cyber/information security.

There’s certainly many more things you should be doing, but it’s a great place to start if you’re an IT Director or CIO at a small business and you’re not sure what you should be doing to secure your company’s information and systems.

There’s plenty of ways to spend money on shiny cyber security software and devices, but this is a great foundation to build your company’s defenses on before start buying Intrusion Detection Systems or hiring Penetration Testers or Social Engineers.

DevOps can be interesting: Just read “The Phoenix Project”

I recently finished reading The Phoenix Project, which was a great read. It’s a fictional story that teaches DevOps (the intersection of the worlds of software development and application operations), and is actually much more fun to read than you’d expect based on that topic. The story made it an easy read, while there was real meat — it was like going to training on DevOps best practices, including concepts from ITIL, Lean, and continuous integration (CI); and other recommendations on books and concepts to study further (like chatting with a mentor).

If your career is related to software development or deployment, I recommend it. Here are a few quotes that jumped off the page for me:

  • “Remember, it goes beyond reducing WIP [Work in Progress]. Being able to take needless work out of the system is more important than being able to put more work into the system. To do that, you need to know what matters to the achievement of the business objectives, whether it’s projects, operations, strategy, compliance with laws and regulations, security, or whatever.”
  • “Left unchecked, technical debt will ensure that the only work that gets done is unplanned work!”
  • “Unplanned work has another side effect. When you spend all your time firefighting, there’s little time or energy left for planning. When all you do is react, there’s not enough time to do the hard mental work of figuring out whether you can accept new work. So, more projects are crammed onto the plate, with fewer cycles available to each one, which means more bad multitasking, more escalations from poor code, which mean more shortcuts. As Bill said, ‘around and around we go.’ It’s the IT capacity death spiral.”
  • “Everyone knows that in manufacturing, as WIP increases, due-date performance goes down”
  • “Brent is a worker, not a work center,” I say again. “And I’m betting that Brent is probably a worker supporting way too many work centers. Which is why he’s a constraint.” “Now we’re getting somewhere!” Erik says, smiling. Gesturing broadly at the plant floor below, he says, “Imagine if twenty-five percent of all the work centers down there could only be operated by one person named Brent. What would happen to the flow of work?”
  • “The Third Way is all about ensuring that we’re continually putting tension into the system, so that we’re continually reinforcing habits and improving something. Resilience engineering tells us that we should routinely inject faults into the system, doing them frequently, to make them less painful.”
  • “Studies have shown that practicing five minutes daily is better than practicing once a week for three hours. And if you want to create a genuine culture of improvement, you must create those habits”
  • “I’m experimenting with putting kanbans around our key resources. Any activities they work on must go through the kanban. Not by e-mail, instant message, telephone, or whatever. “If it’s not on the kanban board, it won’t get done,” she says. “And more importantly, if it is on the kanban board, it will get done quickly. You’d be amazed at how fast work is getting completed, because we’re limiting the work in process. Based on our experiments so far, I think we’re going to be able to predict lead times for work and get faster throughput than ever.”
  • “The wait time is the ‘percentage of time busy’ divided by the ‘percentage of time idle.’ In other words, if a resource is fifty percent busy, then it’s fifty percent idle. The wait time is fifty percent divided by fifty percent, so one unit of time. Let’s call it one hour. So, on average, our task would wait in the queue for one hour before it gets worked. “On the other hand, if a resource is ninety percent busy, the wait time is ‘ninety percent divided by ten percent’, or nine hours. In other words, our task would wait in queue nine times longer than if the resource were fifty percent idle.” I conclude, “So, for the Phoenix task, assuming we have seven handoffs, and that each of those resources is busy ninety percent of the time, the tasks would spend in queue a total of nine hours times the seven steps…”
  • “’I’ve learned that while the finance goals are important, they’re not the most important. Finance can hit all our objectives, and the company still can fail. After all, the best accounts receivables team on the planet can’t save us if we’re in the wrong market with the wrong product strategy with an R&D team that can’t deliver.’ Startled, I realize he’s talking about Erik’s First Way. He’s talking about systems thinking, always confirming that the entire organization achieves its goal, not just one part of it.”
  • “People think that just because IT doesn’t use motor oil and carry physical packages that it doesn’t need preventive maintenance,” Erik says, chuckling to himself. “That somehow, because the work and the cargo that IT carries are invisible, you just need to sprinkle more magic dust on the computers to get them running again. “Metaphors like oil changes help people make that connection. Preventive oil changes and vehicle maintenance policies are like preventive vendor patches and change management policies. By showing how IT risks jeopardize business performance measures, you can start making better business decisions.
  • “She created these SOX-404 control documents for the finance team. It shows the end-to-end information flow for the main business processes in each financially significant account. She documented where money or assets entered the system and traced it all the way to the general ledger. “This is pretty standard, but she took it one step further: She didn’t look at any of the IT systems until she understood exactly where in the process material errors could occur and where they would be detected. She found that most of the time, we would detect it in a manual reconciliation step where account balances and values from one source were compared to another, usually on a weekly basis. “When this happens,” he says, with awe and wonder in his voice, “she knew the upstream IT systems should be out of scope of the audit.” “Here’s what she showed the auditors,” John says, excitedly flipping to the second page. “Quote: ‘The control being relied upon to detect material errors is the manual reconciliation step, not in the upstream IT systems.’
  • “He saw a presentation given by John Allspaw and his colleague Paul Hammond that flipped the world on its head. Allspaw and Hammond ran the IT Operations and Engineering groups at Flickr. Instead of fighting like cats and dogs, they talked about how they were working together to routinely do ten deploys a day! This is in a world when most IT organizations were mostly doing quarterly or annual deployments. Imagine that. He was doing deploys at a rate one thousand times faster than the previous state of the art.”
  • “It’s about continual experimentation, like Scott Cook did at Intuit, where they did over forty experiments during the peak tax filing season to figure out how to maximize customer conversion rates. During the peak tax filing season! “If you can’t out-experiment and beat your competitors in time to market and agility, you are sunk. Features are always a gamble. If you’re lucky, ten percent will get the desired benefits. So the faster you can get those features to market and test them, the better off you’ll be. Incidentally, you also pay back the business faster for the use of capital, which means the business starts making money faster, too.”