Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Getting More for Less out of your staff

What to make more profit, lower costs and increase financial viability of your company?

David H Maister in "Practice What You Preach: What Managers Must Do to Create a High Achievement Culture" gives you the formula. And his model really is a mathematical formula!

And it's simple - staff will perform better, stay longer and even work for less if they like working for you.
Message: Treat your people well, and you will benefit many-fold.

For some people, this will be a "non sequitur" - a "yeah, so what?". For those who believe all workers have to be whipped to produce anything, and will skive off given half a chance, nothing will convince them - not even going broke.

For those wanting to be convinced, Maister does a lovely bit a research using a multi-national marketing company with a full range of business types - small to large, premium products to low-cost mass-market.

Masiter comes up with a good mathematical model relating a number of factors to a composite figure he calls "Profitability" - not just one years' profit, but longer term financial viability. He also has a nice way of presenting the factors in hierarchical form.

Think this through with "brain-workers" (or Knowledge workers) - you can't order them to "produce some brilliance". You can't see inside their heads nor really know just how good the 'stuff' they produce is. Software is an intangible - it's hard to measure and harder to quality assess. You can't beat good ideas out of them...

This is the definitive environment for "passive aggressive" behaviour and for subtle undermining and sabotage.
Screw your staff over, and you'll reap the consequences for a very long time. And you won't even know who did what, when.
At the very least, the more "meek and mild" staff will just withdraw and do an absolute minimum.

You did remember to hire bright people, didn't you? They will expend their creative efforts in looking very busy and producing as little as they can get away with.

Unless you are an expert in the field, and current at that, you won't be able to pick it.

Message to managers:
Treat your I.T. staff well. Get them off-side and you will suffer.

The great thing is that they are very easy to keep happy - give them the stuff they ask for or be clear about what you can afford and why, listen to their requests for changes and especially for reasonable deadlines and occasionally show them you appreciate their efforts. In return you will get high output and when you need it, they will go to extraordinary lengths for you. You have to earn their trust and loyalty - not bully, intimidate or demand it.

There's a secret here you've heard a thousand times from the mouths of Pop Stars: "I'd do this for free".
Yep - good and great programmers/I.T. practitioners love what they do.

And there is a proof the best will do great work for free: Open Source Software.

Technically there is a reason - there are very high intrinsic rewards in programming/I.T.
We can guess it comes from the feelings of "Flow" [Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi ], the human reaction to 'achievement' (a nice high) and the rewards of Problem Solving.

[There has to be some good psychology names for these processes]


The 100-fold advantage

There is a Silver Bullet for programming productivity - pick good people. It probably works for all other areas of I.T. as well.

There is a definitive study, rigorous research, by a Professor of Behavioural Psychology.
It's published in the book "How to be a Star Performer" by Robert E. Kelley.

BTW, Kelley talks of only 10- and 20-fold performance differences amongst "brain-powered" staff at the Bell Labs unit that programmed the "5ESS" telephone switch.

"In the wild", this varies more. Best I've heard of is Rob Kolstad who in a half-day rewrote a key program that had taken a year or more effort - and it ran 100,000 times faster. I've sped-up a critical process by 2- 5,000 times, again with a small tool, quickly implemented. Sadly, no studies, no references.

"100-fold" is a guesstimate, an accumulation of experience and observation, not solid, proven research.
But then again, how do you measure 'productivity' for programmers and other I.T. professionals. Lines-of-code a day doesn't work - you just drown in bugs...

Kelleys' take-away is that 'Stars' are made, not born.
"Initiative" is the central key element - everything else builds on that.

With more highly productive staff, you should be able to get more done - if your organisational processes allow and encourage it, and your managers can get out of the way of the technical staff.

From the on-line page, the Contents of the book:

I. The Productivity Secrets of the Star Performers
1. What Leads to Star Performers
2. Stars are Born, Not Made
3. Creating the Star Performer Model

II. The Nine Work Strategies of the Star Performers
1. Initiative: Blazing Trails in the Organization's White Spaces
2. Knowing Who Knows: Plugging In to the Knowledge Network
3. Managing Your Whole Life at Work: Self-Management
4. Getting the Big Picture: Learning How to Build Perspective
5. Followership: Checking Your Ego at the Door to Lead in Assists
6. Small-L Leadership in a Big-L World
7. Teamwork: Getting Real About Teams
8. Organizational Savvy: Street Smarts in the Corporate Power Zone
9. Show-and-Tell: Persuading the Right Audience with the Right Message
10. Become a Star Performer: Making the Program Work for You


I.T. Management 101

What do they teach in "Management 101" in the School of Hard Knocks?

"Tech-heads are knuckle-heads, Management Knows Best".

Simple, stupid and ineffective... What are the things you want in your technicians? Breadth and Depth.

You want Bright, Capable people that are motivated, knowledgeable and productive. You also want innovative, cost-efficient solutions...

Adopting a "Command and Control" mentality in a cognitive based task is not just wrong, but pessimal - you can't do it worse. Managers who've been 'Technical' are often worst - they believe they know all the answers and are still technically relevant.

In 2007 I know of a major Australian outsourcer using 300Kb Word documents as its Change Control mechanism.
That could've been a cute idea in 1995. It's a mornings' job for a young gun to produce a PHP-MySQL solution running on the Intranet. The 'Managers' can't see a problem...

No references - don't know where to start or how to define the question...


The secret that shall never speak it's name

Nett Negative Producers

That's it. This is one of the biggest dirty secrets of the I.T. business.

It's not just that there is a huge difference in both the capability and productivity of I.T. practitioners, there are a large number that are negative producers - if they were gone, more would get done.

I'd give you references and real research - but it doesn't exist, because this is problem that doesn't exist...

Want to give your I.T. productivity a big boost - discover and remove these people.
They could be managers, could be technicians - but they will always seem and look busy.


I.T. Failure =/= Practitioner failure

In this piece I make a case that problems with I.T. are not failures on the part of the Practitioners.

Computing/I.T. failures have been noticed as serious since the mid-1960's. Within the first 15 years of commercial computing.
There has been ample time to fix the problems we see around us today.
There are very good models of what can be done, and how to do it: e.g. Aviation

So what's going on??
The people that can force change and improvement are not.

Some other game is afoot. What it is we can only guess at...


Tuesday, February 27, 2007

To change the Culture

From Bob Lewis in his Keep the Joint Running column, Office biogeography of 26-Feb-2007.

"Culture is the learned behavior people exhibit in response to their environment. Want to change the culture? Change their environment. It's the only choice you have, unless you think preaching will have an impact."

ITIL is a Culture Change. I.e. People will have to do their tasks differently, will have to perform to different expectations and may even suffer consequences for doing just what they do now. i.e for not changing.

I've heard it asserted that "(the people in) IT are the most change resistant group" in any company. Purports to come from a mid-1980's survey .

And elsewhere, it's part of the received wisdom that "IT is about Change" (i.e. not us, but 'them' the users), so one of the most important aspects of successful I.T. implementations is "Managing Change" - the (other) people dimension. (And you have the internal people (us) dimension of the team as well.)

The synthesis:
Adopting ITIL is probably the single biggest change, hence most disruptive event, in the life of most I.T. Operations/Services groups. Modulo all getting fired and the work 'Outsourced'.

Bob Lewis's observation is that you have to change the environment to change what people do, the culture.
And a really big part of that would be: The Management.

So I'm wondering:
Do all successful ITIL implementations 'start from the top'??


Monday, February 26, 2007

Notes from the Field. Post "Service Level Management"

A 'post course' report - some of thoughts from reflecting on the "Service Level Management" Practitioners course.

"Hats off" to course presenter, Ed Broome, and "Itilics" in Melbourne.
Their home site.
Give them 5 out of 5 for content, delivery and physical stuff.

Follows a bunch of observations on ITIL in general.

"There are 40,000 orgs around the world doing ITIL".
Hmmm, there's 3.3M ABN's in Oz & 2,000 companies on the ASX. It's commonly accepted there are around 1M 'companies' in Oz. And Oz is ~2% of Global Market.
You might expect 50M companies globally - and around 100,000 in the medium-to-large area. And at least the same again in 'Government'.

Use: Market is small. Selling through existing 'franchises' might work.
Question: If it's so *good*, why hasn't it taken off after 20 years??

'Practitioner' courses are not for novices or 'juniors' or maybe even
'intermediate' skill level people.
Needs more than 5 years of experience in I.T. to understand & pass...
Use: There's a niche teaching long, practice/tool based courses for the
those below this level.

"ITIL is Public Domain" - the same way that buying a Lexus is PD! Anyone can do it, if they can pay!
Use: Cheap resources & courses are a niche market that's crying out!

ITIL seems to have missed, "The Internet Changed *everything*"
Use: Super-model. 100% Availability paradigm, ...

The ITIL model is quite thin... Think 80's, think 'mainframe', think 'large government', think 'common sense' (choke, splutter, gag) vs.
SysAdms are not mentioned. Technicians just do magic.
Apparently 'technicians' are all of equal talent. Falls into the "Mythical Man Month" Fallacy. Not all 'Subject Matter Experts' are of equal talent - by at least 100:1 (that's one HUNDRED to one). Professional vs. Professional. (And I wish I had more to back this up than 30+ years observation!)

Performance Analysis, Tuning & related stuff only come up in context of 'Capacity Management'.
Use: Hmmmmm

Corollary: PRINCE2 is assumed for Project Management - but the interfaces don't seem well drawn.
There must be a technical/SysAdm taxonomy possible as well.
Are there other parallel disciplines that should be noted (Data Analysis, Security, ??) - and their interfaces defined.

ITIL explicitly doesn't support making use of quantum leaps forward in computing - applying the latest technology to achieve big gains is specifically 'out of scope'.

The "Service Improvement Program is about *gradual* (steady?) improvements in Quality" and "Improving the TCO of IT Services" (an implied 'Slowly').

We've just come through a number of really significant 'event horizons' that need to be digested/put into practice.

  • Everything runs on Intel (most everything)
  • Q1 2003, Moore's Law constant for Processor Clock speed went from 52%pa. to ~20%pa. [Can't find original source]
  • Win XP was the last 'Big Breakthrough' in O/S
  • Virtualisation is now free & ubiquitous - XEN and Vmware.
  • Disk is really cheap... $1,500/Tb.

Next two/three:

  • Multi-core that does real SMP! And Apps that use it.
  • DataCentre in a Box. Do the Google & treat CPU & Disk like fluorescent tubes. Let them break & replace in one big sweep
  • Snapshots. When the NetApp patents run out or they license. Reliable Data, Everywhere...

Use: Add to the super-model. Show people how to do it. 100% Availability

There are 3 kinds of datastreams gathered by instrumentation, used for:

  • service level metrics (Nr Tx/hour, end-end user response, ...)
  • system metrics used for internal systems processes - tuning, forecasting, analysis, ...
  • diagnosis/troubleshooting [catch *every* packet on an interface for
    later analysis]

Use: Performance Analysis, Service Level Reporting, Tool development.

IT Services are about SERVICE (the capital-S kind that great restaurants do).
Not defined in ITIL. Not even noticed from what I've read...
And this is about selecting people for there (psych) attributes, attitudes and aptitude - of course ignored.
Use: Add to the super-model

ITIL is probably too disciplined & formal for most *management* groups (they're not teams).
They like to not be held accountable, play 'games' etc etc.
And they have staff who are used to these games and will
Use: Will never sell to these people... Flee immediately! when spotted.

The *whole* group (6 ppl) were all high achievers. Was this the norm for "Service Level" Management? (Apparently not - Ed confirmed we were an unusual group.)

We were given a 'sample test' - and everyone was disappointed they didn't score 100%!
Lowest score was 17/25 (12 or 13 needed).
Use: For some of the ITIL disciplines, those who've done the training are pre-qualified as 'movers & shakers'.

The ISEB is very British... Good thing they are having ITIL testing taken away - hopefully the next group is a little more amenable to small changes & giving feedback.
Use: none. Barrier to entry & successful learning.

There was also some mention of "Organisation IT Services Maturity Level" assessments similar to CMM.
[AXA Insurance is at the top level, '5']. Don't know where that standard comes from...
Use: A great service to sell :-)

Now the BIG NEWS:
ITIL is undergoing a 'refresh' - version 3 is being released this year.
BUT - there is an ISO standard for "Quality Management of IT Services" - that can be audited... ISO/IEC 20,000.
It is ITIL *based*, but has a slightly different taxonomy (14 disciplines vs. 11).

This would be a perfect standard for the Sarbanes-Oxley people to pick up on & adopt for big public corporations in the USA... And what the US does, we tend to follow... Or not :-)

This apparently is not a new idea. Awww Shucks.

And I passed the previous 'Problem Management' exam :-) Received the paperwork from the UK today. Now I have to write to the "iTSMF" in the UK for a badge :-(

Does this mean I now have a post-nominal?? (But what? 'IPPM' - ITIL Practitioner - Problem Management)

One of the really interesting questions: Just *what* in ITIL is copyright and what can be freely reused (like the names of the 11 'disciplines' or 'processes' - are they copyright?)

To write a commentary on ITIL, big chunks of it have to be quoted to be critiqued...
To write practice-based courses - ditto...

Now a pie-in-the-sky question:
What are the *limits* to "IT (Ops) inventing themselves out of work?

Where does all the automation & embedded appliance/service stuff end?
How do we make a buck in that world - or is it after I retire :-)

A precise of the actual content will follow in a later post.


What's this thing called ITILOPIA?

Is this "ITIL Utopia" or "ITIL Myopia"??

I've started on my "ITIL Journey". I first worked in "Information Technology" (then called ADP - Automatic Data Processing, 'Computing' or 'Programming') in 1972 and have specialised in it since end of 1974. I was in the first generation to get a major in 'Computer Science' (The term 'Software Engineering' was only invented 3 years prior to me starting Uni) and was in the fist generation to use Unix (in fact, the second ever course in the Unix kernel, by John Lions).

I've worked in most areas of I.T., most organisation types (Public, Private, Not-for-Profit), as contractor, consultant and permanent, on Projects, Operations and Maintenance, in almost all sizes of companies (1 to 25,000), Design, Architecture, Analysis, Ops/Admin and programming/implmentation, Real-Time, Batch, GUI, High-performance computing, Database, Data Analysis and even Accounting/Billing/Book-keeping.

And I'm usually the local expert in Troubleshooting and Fault Diagnosis.

I'm yet to be a CIO, Project Manager of >$1M, or Team Lead more than 6 people.

But my projects always deliver. Even in the face of extreme obstacles and people running 'interference' (You know who you are!).

This not only gives me a bunch of experience, but a unique perspective.

'ITIL' may be a good start for moving into the world of "Mature Computing" (the first commercial computer, the LEO (Lyons Electronic Office) was produced circa 1951).

Or it may have some gaps and oversights...

Which is it? Join me on the Journey :-)