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December 20 2013

Four short links: 20 December 2013

  1. A History of the Future in 100 Objects — is out! It’s design fiction, describing the future of technology in faux Wired-like product writeups. Amazon already beating the timeline.
  2. Projects and Priorities Without Managers (Ryan Carson) — love what he’s doing with Treehouse. Very Googley. The more I read about these low-touch systems, the more obviously important self-reporting is. It is vital that everyone posts daily updates on what they’re working on or this whole idea will fall down.
  3. Intellectual Ventures Patent Collection — astonishing collection, ready to be sliced and diced in Cambia’s Lens tool. See the accompanying blog post for charts, graphs, and explanation of where the data came from.
  4. Smokio Electronic Cigarette — the quantified cigarette (not yet announced) for measuring your (electronic) cigarette consumption and uploading the data (natch) to your smartphone. Soon your cigarette will have an IPv6 address, a bluetooth connection, and firmware to be pwned.

August 19 2013

La politique des 20% de temps libre des ingénieurs de google est-elle morte ? - Quartz

La politique des 20% de temps libre des ingénieurs de #google est-elle morte ? - Quartz
http://qz.com/115831/googles-20-time-which-brought-you-gmail-and-adsense-is-now-as-good-as-dead

La possibilité pour les ingénieurs de Google de réserver 20% de leur temps de travail sur un projet personnel n’existe plus, rapporte Christopher Mims pour Quartz. En 2004, Page et Brin estimaient que l’octroi de 20% de temps aux employés pour innover sur leurs projets personnels était l’instrument de la capacité de l’entreprise à innover. Une politique qui a donné naissance à AdSense et Gmail, Google Transit, Google Talk, Google News... Nombre de produits de Google. Mais, petit à petit, la (...)

#management #innovation

August 13 2013

« Courrier des lecteurs : Stratégies patronales aux éditions Agone »

« Courrier des lecteurs : Stratégies patronales aux éditions Agone »
http://www.alternativelibertaire.org/spip.php?article5421

Alternative libertaire de mai 2013 a publié une chronique du dernier numéro de la revue Agone, consacré aux stratégies patronales de répression et de domestication des salarié-e-s. Des lecteurs ont souhaité nous informer de leur propre expérience en tant que salarié-e-s, jusqu’à récemment, de la maison d’#édition liée à cette revue. Nous publions ici leur texte.

Suite à votre recension dans le journal de mai de la revue Agone n° 50 intitulée « Réprimer et domestiquer : stratégies patronales », nous tenions, indépendamment de la qualité ou de l’intérêt du contenu de ce numéro, à vous apporter ces quelques commentaires.

Début 2013, alors que paraît la revue, cinq salarié-e-s sur six viennent de quitter les éditions Agone, ne se reconnaissant plus dans son évolution, écœuré-e-s par le discours managérial et les pratiques patronales du sixième salarié, directeur éditorial et directeur de publication de la revue. Une étude de cas sur ce qui s’est progressivement passé aurait eu toute sa place dans le dossier de ce numéro et aurait éclairé sur les stratégies que peut mettre en œuvre le petit patronat d’extrême gauche afin de servir ses intérêts.

Réponse d’Agone : « Agone, firme capitaliste ou collectif éditorial et militant en crise ? »
http://www.alternativelibertaire.org/spip.php?article5424

S’il faut tirer une leçon de cette crise, c’est la nécessité de réfléchir à l’essoufflement du modèle vocationnel, qui est au centre du projet d’Agone : répondre aux difficultés pour les membres d’un collectif de s’accorder sur un projet autogestionnaire dans la durée, qui plus est face au bouleversement actuel des mondes de l’édition.

Ca rappelle un autre débat récent (quoique sur un projet pas du tout autogestionnaire)
http://www.article11.info/?Daniel-Mermet-ou-les-delices-de-l
http://www.fakirpresse.info/Mes-annees-Mermet.html

#management #autogestion

August 08 2013

In times of rapid change, empathy is the key management skill because it underpins teamwork and…

In times of rapid change, empathy is the key #management skill because it underpins teamwork and leadership: http://startempathy.org/blog/2013/07/six-habits-highly-empathetic-people

Non-violent communications are the future !

Tags: management

August 06 2013

Le patron d'Amazon rachète le « Washington Post »

Le patron d’Amazon rachète le "Washington Post"
http://www.lemonde.fr/actualite-medias/article/2013/08/05/le-patron-d-amazon-rachete-le-washington-post_3457822_3236.html

Le groupe #Washington_Post a annoncé, lundi 5 août, la cession de ses activités d’édition, dont le quotidien portant son nom, au patron-fondateur du groupe de distribution en ligne #Amazon, #Jeff_Bezos, pour 250 millions de dollars. « L’acheteur est une entité qui appartient à M. Bezos en tant qu’individu, et pas Amazon Inc », précise le communiqué du groupe.

Et pas que le quotidien : http://www.slate.com/blogs/moneybox/2013/08/05/bezos_bought_a_bit_more_than_the_post.html

Quel #management va s’imposer dans ce groupe de #presse ? Des hypothèses là : #disruption
http://qz.com/112073/how-things-are-about-to-change-at-the-washington-post-now-that-jeff-bezos-is-in-
http://qzprod.files.wordpress.com/2013/08/e-ink-mobius.jpg

Jeff le #libertarien se veut rassurant :
http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/jeff-bezos-on-post-purchase/2013/08/05/e5b293de-fe0d-11e2-9711-3708310f6f4d_story.html

I won’t be leading The Washington Post day-to-day.

Je m’attendais pas à celle-là ce matin... http://seenthis.net/messages/162928

L’occasion de lire :

En Amazonie. Infiltré dans le « meilleur des mondes »
http://www.monde-diplomatique.fr/2013/08/RIMBERT/49581

En plus je viens de voir Le capital de Costa-Gavras (oui le truc avec Gad Elmaleh) où ça cause de #hft et de grands enfants qui jouent qui jouent jusqu’à ce que ça pète... alors je vous dis pas l’état dans lequel ça me met.

Quant à Gorge Profonde, on attend encore sa réaction.

C’est quand même marrant que le parangon du #journalisme d’#investigation soit racheté par un des maîtres des #bigdata marchandes. En ces temps de persécution des #whistleblowers. Vivement la fusion Publicis / Omnicom !

July 17 2013

La logique de Google : pourquoi Google fait-il les choses comme il les fait - Guardian.co.uk

La logique de #Google : pourquoi Google fait-il les choses comme il les fait - Guardian.co.uk
http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2013/jul/09/google-android-reader-why?CMP=twt_gu

Michael Mace, auteur de « Cartographier le futur », un livre sur comment créer de meilleurs stratégies d’affaire, s’intéresse à Google et sa logique d’affaire. Pour lui, Google suit une stratégie très différente de la plupart des entreprises. Pour lui, c’est en partie lier à la culture d’#entreprise. Les logiciels web changent en continue et vous ne pouvez pas faire de planification à long terme. Au contraire, il faut de la flexibilité pour évoluer vite. La conception agile est batie dans la fibre et la (...)

#management #innovation

July 03 2013

Pourquoi l'évaluation/rémunération sur indicateurs ne marche pas - Atoute.org

Pourquoi l'évaluation/rémunération sur #indicateurs ne marche pas - Atoute.org
http://www.atoute.org/n/Pourquoi-l-evaluation-remuneration.html

Bien qu'appliqué à la médecine, la réflexion de Dominique Dupagne, l'auteur de « La revanche du rameur », pourrait s'appliquer à bien d'autres choses. Il revient sur les théories de l'économiste américain Robert Lucas qui estimait que les statistiques n'aident pas à prédire les comportements futur des agents économiques. « Une corrélation observée peut devenir trompeuse si elle est utilisée dans un but de prévision ou d'évaluation. » Pour Lucas, les agents ne modifient pas forcément leur comportement face à (...)

#évaluation #digiwork #la27eregion #management

June 13 2013

Four short links: 13 June 2013

  1. The Unengageables (Dan Meyer) — They signed their “didactic contract” years and years ago. They signed it. Their math teachers signed it. The agreement says that the teacher comes into class, tells them what they’re going to learn, and shows them three examples of it. In return, the students take what their teacher showed them and reproduce it twenty times before leaving class. Then they go home with an assignment to reproduce it twenty more times. Then here you come, Ms. I-Just-Got-Back-From-A-Workshop, and you want to change the agreement? Yeah, you’ll hear from their attorney. Applies to management as much as to teaching.
  2. Fixing SigninThe general principle can be stated simply, in two parts: first, give users a trust-worthy way to identify themselves. Second, do so with as little information as possible, because users don’t want to (and simply can’t) remember things like passwords in a secure way. (via Tim Bray)
  3. Retro Gaming with Raspberry Pi (Adafruit) — finally, a clear incentive for kids to work through the frustration of setting up their own Linux box.
  4. Mieko Haire — Apple’s fictious demo lady. Or is she fictitious? This is a new aesthetic-esque glitch, but while most glitches are glitches because you see something that doesn’t exist, this is glitchy because the fictions are actual people. Ok, maybe I need to lay off the peyote.

November 01 2012

Four short links: 1 November 2012

  1. Selfstarter (Github) — open source roll-your-own crowdfunding platform. (Kickstarter has its own audience, of course, which why they could release their source-code and still be top of the heap)
  2. 100 Year Business Plan (Unlimited) — New Zealand Maori tribe has a 100-year business plan, reflecting their values of sustainability and continuity.
  3. Given Tablets, Kids Teach Themselves to Read (Mashable) — Story from two isolated rural villages with about 20 first-grade-aged children each, about 50 miles from Addis Ababa [...] Within four minutes, one kid not only opened the box, found the on-off switch … powered it up. Within five days, they were using 47 apps per child, per day. Within two weeks, they were singing ABC songs in the village, and within five months, they had hacked Android,” Negroponte said.
  4. snippets (Github) — mail out updates on coworker progress, a-la Google’s internal system. (via Pamela Fox)

April 27 2012

Four short links: 27 April 2012

  1. The Third Industrial Revolution (The Economist) -- A number of remarkable technologies are converging: clever software, novel materials, more dexterous robots, new processes (notably three-dimensional printing) and a whole range of web-based services. The factory of the past was based on cranking out zillions of identical products: Ford famously said that car-buyers could have any colour they liked, as long as it was black. But the cost of producing much smaller batches of a wider variety, with each product tailored precisely to each customer's whims, is falling. The factory of the future will focus on mass customisation--and may look more like those weavers' cottages than Ford's assembly line.
  2. Hiring Executives (Ben Horowitz) -- I am going to meditate for a while on Consensus decisions about executives almost always sway the process away from strength and towards lack of weakness.
  3. Valve's Handbook for New Employees (PDF) -- Since Valve is flat, people don't join projects because they're told to. Instead, you'll decide what to work on after asking yourself the right questions (more on that later). Employees vote on projects with their feet (or desk wheels). Strong projects are ones in which people can see demonstrated value; they staff up easily. This means there are any number of internal recruiting efforts constantly under way. Reminds me of Google, and I wonder how Valve manages politics in an organic hierarchy organization. (via Andy Baio)
  4. Facebook Numbers -- On average, Facebook earned $1.21 on each of its users this last quarter. I'd love to be able to pay them $10/yr and have them work for me instead of for [insert best-fit advertiser here].

February 01 2012

Four short links: 1 February 2012

  1. Cycles of Invention and Commoditisation (Simon Wardley) -- Explosions of industrial creativity rarely follow the invention or discovery of a technology but instead its commoditisation i.e. it wasn't the discovery of electricity but Edison's introduction of utility services for electricity that produced the creative boom that led to recorded music, modern movies, consumer electronics and even Silicon Valley. However, utility provision of electricity did more than just create a new world, it disrupted existing industries (both directly and through reduced barriers of entry), it also allowed for new practices and methods of working to emerge and even resulted in new economic forms - such as Henry Ford's Fordism. This isn't a one off pattern. The cycle of invention/commoditisation repeats throughout our industrial history, following a surprisingly consistent pathway. Understanding this pattern is critical to anticipating the changes emerging in our industry today - whether that's the web, cloud computing or the future changes that 3D printing will bring. Simon explains the Business of the Internet in one blog post. Simon is king.
  2. Why Are Software Development Task Estimations Regularly Off By A Factor of 2 or 3? -- never a truer word spoken in parable.
  3. Using the Full-Screen API in Browsers (Mozilla) -- useful! The older I get, the more I like full-screen mode. I found myself wishing my email client had it, then someone pointed out that was called "mutt in a shell window". Fair 'nuff.
  4. File Formats in Javascript (GitHub) -- pointers to libraries for different file formats in Javascript.

November 29 2011

Don't blame the information for your bad habits

We assign blame for our overconsumption in odd ways. Gulp down one too many cupcakes and that's 100% on you. Yet, if you're overwhelmed by the fire hose/deluge/tsunami of information, blame must be placed elsewhere: on those glutton-minded information sources or the overall degradation of society or ... anywhere really, as long as it doesn't reflect back on your own lack of control. Information overload seems to always be someone else's fault.

Clay Johnson (@cjoh), author of the forthcoming book "The Information Diet," believes the information overload problem is actually an information consumption problem. In the following interview, Johnson explains how reframing the issue around consumption and taking ownership of our info intake are the keys to finding information balance.

Is "information overload" the wrong term?

Clay JohnsonClay Johnson: Information overload is the wrong term because it blames the information. That doesn't make any sense because information isn't something that can make decisions or be malicious. Information is something that informs decisions, and those decisions are made by people. We never say someone suffering from obesity is suffering from food overload. Bad food is manufactured by companies that are being run by people, being distributed by companies that are run by people, and being purchased with money from people. Spend a night in a room with a bucket of fried chicken, and provided you don't eat it, your cholesterol is unlikely to change.

Because of this mistake in how we look at the problem, we're unable to fix it. Information overload's message is, "put these tools on your computer, and you'll better manage the information." This kind of practice would be like trying to go on a food diet by buying a different kind of refrigerator, or trying to become a professional athlete by relying solely on the purchase of running shoes. The problem is, we don't need to manage the information. We need to manage our consumption of it.

In other words, we don't suffer from information overload — we suffer from information overconsumption and poor consumption habits. The solution is just as simple as a successful food diet. It's about building habits and healthy choices for yourself, and sticking to it.

Why do we place blame on the information itself?

Clay Johnson: Information is different from the three things we need to consume to survive: food, water, and air. Without getting too mystical, food, water and air are made out of matter, but information is ethereal and comes at us from everywhere. Information is much harder to think of as something we consciously consume.

It's certainly easier to blame the information than it is to take responsibility for our consumption. It's also easier to worry about the economic system that we've set up that values information that affirms our beliefs, makes us feel good, or terrifies us rather than pursue information that informs us and empowers us to make smart decisions. It's just easier to think about a bogeyman than it is to be consciously aware of our consumption.

What are the physical and mental effects of information overconsumption?

Clay Johnson: The book starts out with what I think are the two examples of information overconsumption, and the biggest problem I'm trying to solve in writing it: an electorate that's massively disconnected from the mechanics of their government. In front of the White House in 2009, I saw someone holding a sign over his head that said "Keep your Government Hands off my Medicare." Shortly thereafter, I saw someone else holding a sign over his head in front of the (now closed) Walter Reed Army Hospital that said "Enlist Here to Die for Halliburton."

Now, neither of these signs made any sense: you're not going to be able to keep government's hands off of a government-run program, and nobody enlists to join the Army at an Army hospital. But after speaking with some of the people behind these sorts of messages, they didn't come across as stupid. Medicare man, for instance, spoke with me for about 45 minutes about the creation of the Federal Reserve Bank in Jekyll Island, Ga., and he could name the first 10 amendments of the Constitution. It made me think that there's probably a form of ignorance out there that results from the consumption of information rather than the lack of it. And sure enough, when you look at our history through that lens, you can see a lot of problems — from the tobacco debates of the late 20th century to the climate change and vaccination debates of today.

In other words, information overconsumption can make democracy less scalable. Thomas Jefferson said, "If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be." Information overconsumption can cause as much ignorance as a lack of education.

Overconsumption has all kinds of other individual consequences — cognitive ones like a poor sense of time and shortened attention spans, or social ones like shallower relationships. Let's not forget the physical ones — stress, hypertension and sedentary lifestyles are nothing to laugh at. We're not sedentary because we're silently meditating. We're sedentary, usually, because we're consuming too much information.

The Information Diet — Just as junk food can lead to obesity, junk information can lead to a new form of ignorance. This book provides a framework for consuming information in a healthy way, by showing you what to look for, what to avoid, and how to be selective. In the process, author Clay Johnson explains the role information has played throughout history, and why following his prescribed diet is essential in today's information age.

What are the first steps you should take to address information overconsumption?

Clay Johnson: Step one is measurement. Just like with food, it's a good idea to get a non-obsessive look at how much you're consuming. Count the stuff that requires effort for you to consume — anything that involves a power button, page, switch, tap or click. There seem to be all kinds of gadgets that track when you sleep and how well you sleep these days, but not that many that help you when you're awake. On your computer, you can use a service like RescueTime that will count everything you consume. When you're not in front of a computer, keep a little media journal.

Step two is to cut cable TV. Going on an information diet with a high-end cable sports package is like trying to go on a diet while subscribing to a daily fried chicken and ice cream delivery service. Cutting cable does two things: it reduces your exposure to advertising (probably the junkiest of all information) and reduces your ability to "couch surf." Plus, it's just cheaper. You'll save a lot of money going Internet-only and getting your television through Netflix, Hulu, iTunes and Amazon.

Step three is to adjust your consumption habits. Just like with food, it's good to go local. Start your media consumption with the things that are the most local to you: your closest family and friends, then your local and professional communities, then national issues, then international. Too often we focus more on the issues of Washington or the world when it's our local school boards and state legislatures that make the decisions that affect us most.

Step four is to fix your computer. Try and get rid of anything with a number by it. Your inbox number, all those notifications that pop up, that little red box for notifications on Google+, even the stuff that might be popping up to tell you when a song is playing. Get rid of them. End the battle for your attention on your computer. It's your computer, not Google's, not Microsoft's, not Facebook's. Yet these guys seem in a constant battle for getting in front of your eyes every waking moment. I put together a list of tips and resources to help rid your system of notifications.

Step five is, again just like with food, to not consume information that would be unrecognizable to your grandparents. Avoid highly processed stuff and go straight to sources. Actively avoid news articles that don't empower readers or viewers with the source materials (so few do) and seek out source materials for yourself.

How do you know when you've got information consumption under control?

Clay Johnson: When I first put myself on this kind of diet, especially after removing the ads and notifications of my life, it was as though I lost weight. It's like being in a room with a really noisy air conditioner — you don't realize you're suffering, but you breathe a sigh of relief when the the air conditioner turns off.

Unfortunately this only lasts a few minutes before your brain starts wondering when it's going to get its next dopamine hit. But keep at it. For me, after about a year of being on an information diet, I find I have more time for my wife and family, I'm better at my work, and I have less stress overall.

This interview was edited and condensed.

Photo of Clay Johnson by Joi Ito.

Related:

November 03 2011

Four short links: 3 November 2011

  1. Feedback Without Frustration (YouTube) -- Scott Berkun at the HIVE conference talks about how feedback fails, and how to get it successfully. He is so good.
  2. Americhrome -- history of the official palette of the United States of America.
  3. Discovering Talented Musicians with Musical Analysis (Google Research blgo) -- very clever, they do acoustical analysis and then train up a machine learning engine by asking humans to rate some tracks. Then they set it loose on YouTube and it finds people who are good but not yet popular. My favourite: I'll Follow You Into The Dark by a gentleman with a wonderful voice.
  4. Dark Sky (Kickstarter) -- hyperlocal hyper-realtime weather prediction. Uses radar imagery to figure out what's going on around you, then tells you what the weather will be like for the next 30-60 minutes. Clever use of data plus software.

October 31 2011

TERRA 614: Feeding the Problem

What began in 1912 as a gracious effort to save the Jackson Hole elk herd from harsh winters, shrinking habitat, and dwindling forage, has morphed into a century-long feeding program on what is now the National Elk Refuge and 22 other State-run feed grounds. This biological experiment has created a petri dish for wildlife disease and is now one of the most contentious, fiercely debated issues in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Feeding the Problem is a balanced and in-depth exploration of this unique conservation dilemma from the people most intimately connected to it.

April 19 2011

Four short links: 19 April 2011

  1. Lines (Mark Jason Dominus) -- If you wanted to hear more about phylogeny, Java programming, or tree algorithms, you are about to be disappointed. The subject of my article today is those fat black lines. Anatomy of a clever piece of everyday programming. There is no part of this program of which I am proud. Rather, I am proud of the thing as a whole. It did the job I needed, and it did it by 5 PM. Larry Wall once said that "a Perl script is correct if it's halfway readable and gets the job done before your boss fires you." Thank you, Larry.
  2. PHP Clone of Panic Status Board (GitHub) -- The Panic status board shows state of downloads, servers, countdown, etc. It's a dashboard for the company. This PHP implementation lets you build your own. (via Hacker News)
  3. The Management Myth (The Atlantic) -- a philosophy PhD gets an MBA, works as management consultant, then calls bullshit on the whole thing. Taylorism, like much of management theory to come, is at its core a collection of quasi-religious dicta on the virtue of being good at what you do, ensconced in a protective bubble of parables (otherwise known as case studies). (via BoingBoing)
  4. Obsolete Technology -- or, as I like to think of it, post-Zombie-apocalypse technology. Bone up on your kilns if you want your earthen cookware once our undead overlords are running (or, at least, lurching) the country. (via Bruce Sterling)

March 29 2011

Process management blurs the line between IT and business

Business process management (BPM) and more specifically business process optimization (BPO) is about fully understanding existing business processes and then applying agreed-upon improved approaches to support market goals. Rather than exploring BPO from the viewpoint of the business, here I'll briefly explore some of the motivations and benefits from an IT perspective.

Almost every business change has a technology impact

There are very few IT systems today that exist in isolation within an organization. Systems interact because they often require data from each other and they are interdependent in terms of sequential steps in a business and technology process. As a result, a change in one system invariably has a downstream impact on one or more other systems or processes. Often, the consequences of these changes are poorly understood by both IT and business stakeholders. Put another way: in interdependent complex systems and processes, there is seldom the notion of a small change.

Once both IT and business stakeholders recognize this, there is an opportunity to turn it into a highly positive outcome.

IT must be perpetual teachers and learners

As is the case in achieving many of the objectives of an IT strategy, it begins with communications. Every contact between IT and the business is an opportunity to teach and to learn. This is a reciprocal interaction. When I hear or read a sentence that begins, "Could you make a small change for me…" I know we're already starting from a bad place. Unless the requester fully understands the internal complexity of all the interdependent systems and the potential impacts (which is rare), it's presumptuous for him or her to estimate the scale of the change. Conversely, any IT person who minimizes the impact of a change without fully understanding the potential impact does a disservice in setting expectations that may not be met.

For IT requests, it's best and safe to assume that a change will have impact, but the scale of that change will not be known until reasonable diligence is performed. That's a much better starting point.

Let's now assume that the change is not inconsequential. Two opportunities present themselves.

IT is an important business facilitator

First, stakeholders that are impacted by the change should be brought together to discuss the impact. I'm always surprised how these meetings reveal gaps in everyone's understanding of business processes between departments. To me, this is where IT can shine as the connective tissue within an organization. More than ever, technology forces organizations to better understand and agree on processes — and that's often well before the subject of supporting technology is even relevant to the conversation.

Use this opportunity to surface the entire process and for everyone to understand the impacts of any change. Improvements to the process very often emerge. IT has suddenly motivated business process optimization.

There is no such thing as too much process documentation

Second, assuming no documentation exists, this is the right time to map the process. If you're like many organizations, your IT systems grew organically with little emphasis placed on business process design. My guess is that comprehensive, high-quality, current process documentation is uncommon. It's never too late to start. If you have business stakeholders in a room discussing and agreeing on the current and future process, this is the time to document it. There is a burgeoning market for tools and support to help enable and simplify this work.

Ultimately, documented processes make it easier to build the right software and to make changes with less overhead activities in the future.

The essential roles of business analyst and solutions architect

It's this emphasis and attendant benefits of understanding and documenting business processes that supports the expanded roles of both the business analyst and solutions architect. These two roles, and having the right amount of capacity for your organization's demand, will be essential to succeeding with your IT strategy and in growing the business. In many organizations, the business analyst for this work may or may not be in IT, thus further blurring the lines between where IT starts and ends and where business responsibilities start and end.

Perhaps it's possible that in the not too distant future we'll look at IT as part of the business and not as a separate entity in the manner it is today. It just might be the increased emphasis on business process management that acts as the catalyst.



Related:


January 19 2011

3 types of IT leaders: maverick, innovator, guarantor

There is little recognition that the operating profile of IT leaders can vastly differ from organization to organization. This is most pronounced when studying how technology vendors sell to this audience. It can often appear there is simply one type of person leading every IT organization. Variations in needs are seldom reflected in the way products are sold.

There is an array of independent inputs that determine the style of each leader. Take for example the industry in which the person works. The approach of a CIO that leads a B2B industrial products business is going to be vastly different from one that runs an IT department at a university. Now also consider the culture of a business. It's not possible to have the same style leading IT at a highly risk-tolerant, innovative tech company versus providing the essential needs for a conservative and low-tolerance-for-risk insurance giant.

For many of you, this might sound obvious. But why then do marketers, analysts, consultants, and so many pundits (I'm probably guilty here too) so often sell to this community like it's one dimensional?

I don't mean to generalize too much. We should certainly recognize the brilliant jobs so many salespeople perform. Rather, the advice in this post is for the group of salespeople who could benefit from thinking differently about the diversity of every IT leader.

The following guidance can also be used by recruiters when thinking about filling IT leadership roles. In this instance, it can be asked: do the characteristics of the organization align to the skills, experiences, and personality of the person being hired?

Finally, if you work with or for an IT leader, it might help you in thinking about how to manage the relationship in a positive way.

Here I present my vastly condensed categorization schema for the IT leader:

1. The maverick

This IT leader works for an organization that thrives on taking risks. You're likely to see lower levels of vendor standardization; this IT leader likes to try lots of different products and the organization's broad portfolio of hardware and software reflects that.

The maverick IT leader is likely to have a higher level of comfort with open source and with quickly adopting less mature technologies. The background of this IT leader is likely technology-based and he/she has extensive IT knowledge.

The environment requires this person to move fast. Sitting on long, protracted RFP submission proposals, for example, will not go over well, nor likely be a common approach. Speed and agility are popular qualities with this IT leader, but there is a trade-off with standardization, repeatable processes, and predictability. Often this person succeeds with the sheer brute force of determination. But this benefit can often come at a price.

Advice: When working with this IT leader, be conscious of his/her low patience and less of a long-term commitment to any one direction.

2. The diligent innovator

This IT leader operates in an enlightened organization. He/she understands that IT innovation can bring considerable benefits, but this leader doesn't necessarily make a first-mover play.

In this organization, occasional managed risk is supported with the caveat that homework is done and a back-out strategy exists. This IT leader is often asked to be agile in responding to needs while also being encouraged to push back on requests that don't align with business objectives or may disproportionately introduce unnecessary complexity. It's often a hard place to operate because the pull to take greater risks must be balanced with diligent decision-making. This can often result in a slower pace of activity, or in the worst case, in an impasse. The focus on diligence with underlying encouragement to innovate makes this a popular posture of IT leaders, but it can be the hardest of the IT leader categories to succeed in.

Advice: Be sure to provide this IT leader with plenty of assurances, good quality information, and support throughout any initiative.

3. The rock-steady guarantor

The ask of this IT leader is often the simplest: keep the essential systems running, don't take too many risks, and keep the technologies moderately current. This person doesn't need everyone to have the latest versions of software. They keep a close eye on new developments, but almost always take a late-majority approach to implementation.

While it sounds like this IT leader has it the easiest, that is the furthest from the truth. This person is being asked to keep everything working. Disruptions and surprises and not well received by management. Naturally, this makes the IT leader less agile, forces processes to be more bureaucratic, and change is much harder to make happen.

For most of history, this organizational profile has succeeded by being conservative and moving at glacial speed. The jury is out on whether this method is sustainable in today's economic environment. The IT leader at the helm of this type of organization has considerable challenges ahead. He/she will see increased pressure to operate in a way that has been historically inconsistent with the risk profile of this type of business. A large amount of CIOs fill this category.

Advice: This IT leader requires a considerable volume of analysis to make decisions. Be sympathetic to rigorous approval paths, and prepare to support commitment to projects in the long-term.


I expect most IT leaders will have styles that overlap among all three categories, but it is highly likely that the predominant characteristics live in one of them. Of course, I'm really interested to hear from anyone who thinks they know an IT leader who doesn't belong in any of these categories.

A short blog post can never do justice to an important discussion. I've left out a lot here, such as budget control and who the CIO reports to. But what I'm trying to do is raise awareness and provoke a dialogue. There isn't a one-IT-leader-fits-all model. IT leaders are fundamentally different based on the organizations they lead.

Knowing and considering the subtle and not-so-subtle differences with each IT leader will help marketers better reach and resonate with them. It will help anyone who works with the leader to have more successful interactions and outcomes. Ultimately, it will be better for the IT leader and the organization.


Related:


Four short links: 19 January 2010

  1. Implementing REST -- This is a place for exploring aspects of implementing applications using the REST architectural style. This may include statements about existing frameworks and libraries, general discussions about the nature of the style and how it may be expressed and/or encouraged via a programming framework, etc.
  2. When Teaching Restrains Discovery -- read about this research (short story: the more specific the skills taught, the less exploratory students were) and think about how we teach people to program, how we teach them the company culture, how we teach them to succeed.
  3. The Maker Generation in the Enterprise (JP Rangaswami) -- We have to get away from the idea that knowledge work is smooth and stable and uniform and assembly-line in structure and characteristic. Knowledge work is lumpy. Period. There will be peaks. And there will be troughs. The current thinking appears to go something like this: “If we have troughs it will look like we don’t have enough work to do, so we need to pretend to work. Let’s fill our days up in advance with things that don’t depend on market or customer stimulus, things we can plan well in advance. And let’s call these things meetings. Then we can look busy all the time.” Such thinking has produced some unworthwhile consequences.
  4. i.materialise 3D Printing in Titanium -- Titanium’s high heat resistance, high accuracy and unparalleled strength lets designers now make things that before now could only be made by the research and development departments of only the largest corporations in the world. By putting this technology in the public’s hands were democratizing manufacturing and giving you the opportunity to, design and order something this is exactly as you want it to be. (via Chris Anderson on Twitter)

January 04 2011

Can good IT managers make great business leaders?

Recently, many people have been pointing out to me how my O'Reilly blog on IT leadership and the attendant observations on technology have been resonating outside of the IT community. Specifically I'm told, the subjects I'm writing on have meaning and value as general business management content. As I pondered on this notion, it struck me (and it's obvious in hindsight) that in a world where technology is a fundamental foundation of almost all business, there's not a great deal of difference between the skills required for good IT management and that of general management.

However, as true as that might be, as I further considered the thought, I concluded that good IT management doesn't necessarily equate to great business leadership. We hear it all the time: today, CIOs and IT leaders must be able to partner with other members of the C-suite and in addition to running the operations of IT, be able to grow the business through IT enablement.

After all, the CIO is first and foremost a business leader.

Here's the ask: the CEO wants more value from IT, the COO wants optimized operations, and the CFO wants it all at the least possible cost.

This requires the CIO to understand business and — surprise — have some form of general business background. That being recognized, the most common path to IT leadership is still through the IT organization, and that means the CIO strength may be of a technical nature with a nuanced flavor of management. That can often present a problem.

It's important to recognize that to run an IT project or to manage a team of IT developers requires good management techniques. But all too often, IT professionals exist and operate in a vacuum resulting in a variation of management absent of inputs such as market forces. In other words, the typical IT manager, for example, may never be exposed to a P&L statement.

This is not by intention, but comes about as a result of how almost every IT organization operates. Largely shielded from the real work of the business, IT has both the convenience and the limitation of working with internal sponsors who are captive customers with no choice of supplier. That couldn't be any more different than leaders who were groomed with and are working with the open marketplace. Put another way, acquiring management skills within the IT organization may result in a myopic view of general management.

The best IT managers I've seen have a background of both IT and general management. Many IT managers do not get to work in a non-IT environment. But the IT managers that do best are often those that have had more business exposure than their peers. Take that as a tip for any aspiring IT manager.

I'm not suggesting for a moment that a great IT leader doesn't need a technical background or a good understanding of technology. That's necessary and expected. After all, one assumes that the reason for wanting to be an IT leader stems from a passion for technology often reflected in a life of mild obsessiveness with geekdom. What I am suggesting is that a technical background with IT management skills may not be enough to cut it as a great business leader.

To succeed, an IT leader must learn to talk in the language of business. For example, cloud computing is about potential cost reduction and new business opportunities, not some abstract technology term that introduces a suite of complex new service models. The latter has a place at your IT team meetings, but will do little to invoke attention in the board room.

A great IT leader is also a salesperson who takes an idea and inspires the audience. He or she must drive emotional commitment from a team and sell a vision that people can buy. That killer combination of communicating IT innovation in business terms, understanding the numbers, and eliciting belief from the C-suite can form the backbone of highly effective business leadership.

Without these skills the CIO can often be relegated to order-taker and maintenance guy.

Being a good IT manager is hard. Being a great business leader is harder. What separates them is not just the ability to continually and uniquely inspire, but first to be a really well-informed and skilled business manager. Get the basics right, learn the business, understand the financial aspects, think big picture, talk the talk, inspire through your values, and then deliver. Hit many of these on the head and you just might shine as a business leader in the C-suite.



Related:




November 17 2010

The CIO's golden rule of management

Evidence-based management is an approach where hunches are discarded and instead decisions are based on hard facts. It's pounded into aircraft pilot training: when there is no visibility, regardless of what senses are suggesting, pilots must trust their flight instruments. In medicine (where the practice of evidence-based decision making originates) new diagnostic technology can trump the wisdom of physicians and can make decades of experience only an input into a course of treatment and not the final call. With few exceptions, good data is the best way to make great decisions. Without it you're essentially flying blind.

We use evidence-based management all the time in business. Historically, we've just called it something else. In business we're consumed with data and metrics. We make decisions with data and we measure performance with metrics. It's letting the data and metrics -- the evidence -- tell the story and then taking some form of action on it.

As a business function, we can all agree that internal IT is replete with data and opportunities for metrics. Even still, it is surprising how poorly IT organizations measure what they do and how they make decisions. In my firsthand experience the problem can be attributed to at least three characteristics:

  1. Lack of recognition for the value of data and metrics.
  2. Insufficient skills in determining how and what to measure.
  3. System limitations/issues.

The effective CIO must address these and knock all three out of the ballpark. The success of an IT strategy is predicated on good metrics. Clearly that's easier said than done. What every IT leader quickly learns is that without even a basic set of metrics, management of processes is close to impossible (at least in any quality manner) and making an argument for a course of action, particularly to the boss, is exponentially more difficult. To paraphrase Druker, who I believe got it exactly right, if you want to manage something you had better measure it. That's an important rule.

Choose wisely if your metrics are currently far and few between. Go after the most valuable items, but keep the list relatively short. Produce a long list and you risk pushing your team into a tizzy. If you inherit an environment that appears to monitor and measure in excess, find a way to reduce it to a list where each item has merit. Simply asking the purpose of each metric will truncate the list quickly!

I'll be the first to admit that metrics aren't the most glamorous part of IT leadership, but they must be a priority. If leveraged in the right way, quality metrics can be the difference between dysfunctional operations and high-performance. That's a golden rule that any CIO should want to follow.



Related:




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