Magnify Like a Pro

Here is a great tip for all of you who present and demo software…Unless everyone in your audience have 20-20 vision and are seated on the front row they are likely having problems reading all the details on your screen while you demo. Good presentations become great when you know how to zoom like a pro! Available in Windows 8.1 you can press Windows Key and the Plus sign to zoom effortlessly and make the experience better for everyone! :-) Read more here http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows-8/use-magnifier-to-see-items

Low Tech “Bridge” to High Tech

Among the countless new services and announcements made by Microsoft during TechEd 2014, I came across their Import/Export service, which aids you in moving large amounts of data into and out of Azure – “much faster than is possible by downloading data from the internet”. This of course got me curios, so I read on.

Turns out that Microsoft is offering a service where you can send them one or more hard drives and they will load the data onto an Azure data center for you, or export data onto the hard drive.

Albeit low tech, this is brilliantly simple and effective! If you have large amounts of data to load this is a great service, and costs $80 per storage device.

In my view Microsoft gets bonus points for coming up with value added services to aid in the usage of their high tech Azure services!

Why Customization is Necessary

Using the same information technology the same way as everyone else gives you no competitive advantage. You know your business best and as such are uniquely positioned to figure out how to make your information technology make you better at what you do, and hence create competitive advantage.

For many needs off-the-shelf solutions work great! Examples are bountiful; word processing, spreadsheets, e-mail list management, event sign-up and presentation software – all of these are mature and commoditized types of software where you will definitely choose to go with an off-the-shelf solution. However, for many critical enterprise management needs the picture is different. You need to customize it to make it fit your needs, culture and style. Here are my principles for how to succeed with what I call Lean Customization.

1. Be A Pioneer

Using the same information technology the same way as everyone else gives you no competitive advantage. You know your business best, which means you are uniquely positioned to know what you need. Dare to go where others haven’t gone.

2. Assemble a SEAL Team

  • Skin in the Game: Ensure everyone has their skin in the successful implementation. This will drives engagement, which in turns drives success.
  • Expert: Use teams of Multi-Discipline Talent fit for the purpose at hand. Your team should preferably have better functional understanding than the best in-house functional expert, as well as the technical competencies to make the information technology deliver your results.
  • Adaptable: Be able to change at a moment’s notice with no remorse.
  • Likable: Your team must have the enthusiasm, capabilities and willingness to accomplish what you set out to do.

3. Be Tangible

Focus on delivering working prototypes and real-life demos as opposed to dead documents and strangling Powerpoint presentations.

4. Never Stop

Change will happen – embrace it and find ways to deal with it no matter when the need arises. A Change Freeze is as useful as a Brain Freeze. Why? You need to review changes no matter how inconvenient the timing might be – if it makes sense to change, you need to allow change at any time. Avoid boxing yourself in, and build so that you are prepared  for it when it comes. Ensure that your platform, application and team are flexible to meet changing needs. Also remember to keep expanding the frontier and always look for ways to improve further.

5. Deliver Continuously

Don’t try to tackle too much at one time. Ensure you can do the work in small iterations that can be completed. You’d rather have many phases or iterations of your project than large number of features being deployed at the same time. Two things to keep in mind: First, why should your target audience have to wait for a feature because you happened to lump it into a grand “Phase II of Project”?  Second, there are limits for how much your target audience can assimilate at a time, so you are better off keeping the batches small.

6. Be Lean

Always look for ways to trim fat and cut bureaucracy. Use fit for purpose processes, not copy and paste master pieces that has 90% fluff and 10% content. Keep your work processes lean – for example use testing requirements that take into account the actual level of risk, as opposed to boiler plate processes.  Reduce Powerpoint fluff, document onlly what matters (good documentation is not measured in pages) and remember to empower your team members and hold them responsible and accountable.

The Coming Rise of Personal Storage

According to a recent survey cited by Microsoft 85% of Americans are concerned about their online privacy, yet few take action to alleviate their concern. Although Microsoft’s step to educate consumers on the privacy issue is a good start they are missing the point. The problem lies not with the consumers, but with the companies who relentlessly exploit their data in devious ways without consumers fully understanding the extent of the problem.

In one of Microsoft’s brochures they summarize the problem quite well:

“…unlike in-person conversations, after you post online—texts, blogs, comments, tweets, snapshots, links—it may remain there forever. The site may archive your post, people may keep it and share it, companies may sell it, or security lapses may expose it. That means it may be available to future employers, friends, bank loan officers, and others with consequences for your reputation that you may be unable to imagine. It’s also important to know that hackers, spammers, identity thieves, and other criminals could misuse the information you disclose to tarnish your reputation, harass you, steal your identity, or ruin your credit.”

Most of the same Americans who are concerned about their privacy still share massive photo libraries and other personal details on Facebook. In fact, 300 million photos are uploaded to Facebook every day, 1/3 of them with personally identifying tags. As of October last year 219 billion photos were uploaded to Facebook.

How does this happen? How can we on one side observe that 85% of Americans are concerned about online privacy, yet still 300 million new photos are shared every single day?

For starters, it is clear that people enjoy sharing special moments with friends! Additionally there are many people who still don’t understand Facebook’s privacy settings, and who haven’t made the effort to make the necessary adjustments.

However, I believe the real reason behind this lack of congruency is three-fold:

  1. People don’t understand the extent of the business behind sale of private information that underlies the online ecosystem
  2. Most of people’s friends are already on Facebook so it is the easiest way to share photos with friends
  3. No real private sharing alternative exists

What privacy advocates need to do is to get off their slow-motion train of only applying traditional methods of influence and embrace that in order to fight technology they need to employ technology themselves. We need better technology that allows us to share without being exploited.

In order to get private data back where they belong – into the hands of the consumers, and not in countless anonymous companies and private persons deploying apps – we need to deploy solutions that enables private sharing with real friends.

We need a consumer product that allows them to share their data from their own device that they themselves control – a set top box in the hands of the consumer where you can make your content available when you want, for how long you want and shared with whom you want. When you hit the OFF button – it is no longer available. It needs to integrate with social media so that notifications of new content could be broadcast conveniently – but it should point to data stored on a device in complete control by the consumer.

Cloud technology, traditional social networks and P2P Technology misses the target here – we need IPv6 deployed and internet providers to open up so that the set-top box can function as an individual web-server available whenever you want it to be available.

The lack of congruency between privacy concern and the actual amount of information shared will not exist forever. I believe that the combination of increased IPv6 deployment, consumer awareness and new technology will lead to a giant rise in personal storage – bringing the data back where it belongs.

Keep It Small

The classic IT Enterprise Systems implementation includes a team of in-house personnel from the functional side as well as IT, a software vendor who provides the software product, and a “systems integrator” who is bringing the expertise to implement the chosen software.

As many of you already know – this is a model I don’t particularly care for, unless the software you’re buying is completely commoditized, like Microsoft Office. The reasons are primarily two-fold:

  1. By leaving the hardest part (the actual implementation) to the partners the software company has little stake in the success of the project once the license has been sold and maintenance agreements are locked in place
  2. Too often the “systems integrator” will bring an army of inexperienced engineers and use your project as the training ground to get them up to speed – while still charging you top dollars for their time.

I’ll elaborate further on #1 in a later post. Today I’d like to focus on team size and the consequence of having a larger team. First, the potential communication channels increase exponentially. If you have a team of 6 you have a potential of 15 different communication channels – sounds manageable, right? However, if your team grows five times as big (to 30 team members) the number of communication channels increases 29-fold to 435! The more potential communication channels the more communication noise and distortion, and the more time is needed to determine information needs, storage and retrieval and communication methods. In short, there is a cost to collaboration that is magnified as the team size grows.

When embarking on your next enterprise software project insist on a smaller team – focus on assigning more experienced people instead. Also insist on seeing the resume and, if possible, meeting the team members personally, before allowing them to work for your project. Lastly – insist on ALL team members having clear roles and responsibilities, so that you can verify that they are truly adding value to your team.

In short, as your team and project size grows – so does your risk of failure.

The Million Dollar Configurable Pair of Pants

Many IT professionals are obsessed about the distinction between configuration and customization, and tend to view the latter as an evil to run a mile from. We need configuration, for sure – but we need a reality check and consider the entire cost of providing the configurability before we discard customization. Configurability beyond a certain point has diminishing return and you may be better off looking for a golden middle way that allows you to strike a better balance between the two.

Let me run you through a quick thought experiment by comparing to another product to illustrate what I mean.

Let’s pretend I am a team member in the Vik Global Corporation and I have a real business need – I need new pants. The old ones are worn out with holes and I have gotten to a point where it is hurting my business to use them further, as not many customers would buy services from a guy with holes in his pants.

So I approached the Clothing Technology Department with my need, who assigned a Business Analyst to the case. She quickly assembled a team to have a requirements gathering session. She also pointed out that there were many viable providers of pants locally in Houston, and decided to bring on an objective external consultant to help with the whole requirements gathering and vendor selection process.

The external consultant had worked with many pant-wearing business people in the past and came highly recommended as an objective and unbiased consultant. Working with the Business Analyst he quickly discovered other people in the organization who appeared to have similar needs: Johnny from the Norway division also needed new pants, as well as Ivar, Anne, Julie, Sofia, and Carla.

Over the next few months we had several teleconferences to detail out our requirements. We quickly determined our needs were quite different – I wanted black pants, Johnny and Ivar blue, Sofia pink, Julie red and Anne white. The consultant patiently listened to our needs and carefully wrote down the requirements.

After a while the consultant had come up with a complete business requirements list. Some of the key Pants requirements were:

  • Must be configurable to allow selection of color, at a minimum black, blue, pink, red and white
  • Inseam must be configurable between 16″ and 30″.
  • Waist must be configurable between 15″ and 36″.
  • Must be able to configure how many pockets are needed, as well as their depth.
  • User must be able to change the style of zippers themselves.

He assembled a detailed Request for Information (RFI) consisting of 67 pages of requirements and questions to highlight the different vendors’ experience in supplying global Pants solutions.

Several vendors where dismissed due to lack of global capability, while others were dismissed because of lacking features – some couldn’t provide pockets, others lacked zippers, and yet others were dismissed due to lacking configurability.

It came down to two options:

  1. Global Pant Masters, with their Pants 3000 Solution: They submitted a completely configurable solution using the latest smart materials to allow color configurability, 4D Sewing Materials to allow for configurable inseam and waist, 3D Pocket Printing capabilities, and ZipIt technology to allow for the zipper configurations. They suggested using Pant Consulting Inc as their partner to implement the system, who would supply a team of three to each geographic location that would provide the necessary training and configuration services. They would also handle all the dry cleaning and upgrades of the pants in the future.
    Total price: $1,000,000 for the configurable pants, and $3,000,000 in system implementation services.
  2. Pant Tailors Inc: Using pants supplied by one of the biggest brands, they offered to provide one customized Pant for each Division that would be cut to length, and with the desired color, waist, pockets and zipper.
    Total price: $100 x 7, plus $20 x 7 for tailor services. In addition, they suggested to provide a one-person team, a Pant Consultant, that would provide necessary support and customizations on-demand in the future, as additional needs would surface.

The Clothing Technology Department laughed their pants off when they saw Pant Tailors Inc’s proposal. How were they going to maintain such a disparate solution? What about color governance and adherence to the best practices in Waist sizes?

They naturally awarded the contract to Global Pant Masters.

Three years later, here is the picture of one of their users in the Norway Division:

misfit

Clearly a successful implementation.

Building excessive configuration options into a system complicates the system and adds cost. This cost needs to be recovered through higher license and maintenance fees. If you only need a fraction of the configurable options a customized solution can serve you better.

In short, let’s simplify IT and systems deployment and refocus on what the individual business groups needs are. They will typically not be exactly the same elsewhere in your organization…To borrow a phrase from B. Joseph Pine II, “Fundamentally customers don’t want choice; they just want exactly what they want.”

Why can’t we just give them that?

Be Quick to Decide – But Don’t Make the Decision Too Early

“Be Quick to Decide” is a recommendation many people give, most recently Bob Parsons, the billionaire founder of GoDaddy.com. However without due thought into what this actually means, you may quickly end up making pre-mature, poor decisions.

Being Quick to Decide does not mean making decisions in a short period of time – nor can you use it as an excuse to circumvent due diligence. I therefore like to recommend being quick to decide – but don’t make the decisions too early! First ask yourself when a decision is needed before you proceed.

In a project, the project manager is often challenged to make decisions on the spot, however in most cases a decision is not required at the time, and you could benefit from going through regular due process instead.

Many of you have heard of the term “groupthink” – when a project team is small and cohesive, your team is prone to fall into the mode of “groupthink” in stressful situations. Most people naturally want to avoid tension, and the need for support and agreement between the group members may limit the amount of critical thought going into the situation. It takes experience, character and discipline to spot groupthink and to resist the temptation of making decisions before they are needed.

Let’s take an extreme example to illustrate. If I tell you that of the three doors in front of you, only one contains a prize. Which door would you choose?

People prone to taking premature decisions would simply make a selection.

However, what if I would tell in my next sentence that “Behind door A is a Mercedes Benz”, most people would agree that it would have been beneficial to wait…

Yes, a bit unrealistic and extreme example, I agree, but you get the point.

Making the decision too early may mean that you are making the decision without having a full understanding of the problem at hand, you might not have the right people involved in providing the information, and you may not understand the alternative solutions available.

Yes, there is a a time and a place for when quick, on-the-spot decisions are needed. However, this is the first question you should ask yourself: When do I need to make a decision? Then go from there.