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Show Me the Money - Getting Your Project Funded Tue 31 Oct 06

Getting your project approved and funded is never easy and it even more difficult when you don't know how to best present your case.  We in IT seem to think that if we throw in enough system architecture diagrams and festoon the proposal with acronyms the merits should be obvious.  The results say otherwise.  In regard to the use of acronyms refer to Schaffner's Rule of Communications to Someone in a Different Profession. However, this alone isn't enough.

For a good outline of how to prepare proposals for capital spending check out Kent Blumberg's blog post on "Making sensible capital investment".  If you follow these guidelines you just might find you have a higher success rate in getting project funding!

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Mastering the Three Worlds of IT Mon 30 Oct 06

Andrew McAfee has just published an interesting paper entitled Mastering the Three Worlds of Information Technology in the online version of the Harvard Business Review which is providing free access (at least for now).  There are 2 major themes in this paper:

  1. Non-IT management is critical to the successful implementation of projects
  2. He presents 3 models of IT and discusses the implications for management in terms of which they should invest in and what they should to maximize returns.

For the sake of brevity, I will only discuss the first theme in this post and will defer discussion on the second theme to a later post.  Nicholas Carr has also reviewed this article in blog posting entitled "Too Many ITs".

Carr states that McAfee’s argument "that IT success in business today is less about technology than about good old-fashioned management is not new."  While this point may be important in terms of an academic review I think the concept is one that bears repeating.  The reason I say this is that many still do not understand this point.  At the risk being accused of repeating an overused cliché, success in implementing new technology really is about people, processes and technology.

McAfee states:

"I believe that executives have three roles to play in managing IT: They must help select technologies, nurture their adoption, and ensure their exploitation."

McAfee goes on to clarify:

"Everyone who has studied companies' frustrations with IT argues that technology projects are increasingly becoming managerial challenges rather than technical ones. What’s more, a well-run IT department isn’t enough; line managers have important responsibilities in implementing these projects. An insightful CIO once told me, “I can make a project fail, but I can’t make it succeed. For that, I need my [non-IT] business colleagues.” Managers I’ve worked with admit privately that success with IT requires their commitment, but they’re not clear where, when, and how they should get involved."

Amen Brother!

I believe that many people view new technologies as a silver bullet – If I install this software my salesmen will be more effective and sales will go through the roof!  Unfortunately, we in IT are often guilty of fostering this misperception in order to “sell” the project.  Under the silver bullet approach technology implementation solely equals IT installing software.  The truth is that technology implementation is really communication, process redesign, organizational development, training and employee and management involvement at all levels both inside and outside of IT plus IT installing the software.

I believe this is a concept well worth repeating as often as necessary.  What do you think?

To Be Continued . . .

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The Power of 3 Little Words Mon 30 Oct 06

In one of my first posts I summed up what I thought was a good mission statement for IT, that is, what I thought were the keys to our success in 3 words. 

Communicate Execute Adapt

This past Friday I attended a Houston Planning Forum luncheon.  The Houston Planning Forum is a non-profit, volunteer association focused on strategy and execution.  Imagine my pleasant surprise when I noticed the cards on the table with the HPF tag line printed on them.

Strategy Execution Insight

It was also on each of their PowerPoint slides.  It truly does summarize what the HPF is about and where they focus.

As it turned out I was in for a double dose of clarity that day.  The speaker was Larry Kellner, Chairman & CEO of Continental Airlines.  In relating the story of Continental he talked about their focus on providing service that was:

Clean Safe Reliable

Again, a few simple words to focus the message.

He told of the importance of this focus when talking about how Continental went from having one of the worst performance records to one of the best.  Continental had a dismal record in on-time performance, the number of lost bags and the number of complaints being filed.  Figuring that most of the complaints were a result of their on-time performance and baggage handling they took a closer look at those two.  Further analysis revealed many of the baggage issues stemmed from planes being late and connections missed.  They determined improving on-time performance was key to improvements in all 3 areas.

They calculated the economic benefit of being in the top 5 of on-time performance.  When they divided this by the number of non-managerial employees it came to $65 per person per month. Rather than simply pocketing this, they told everyone they would pay them the $65 every month they were in the top 5 of on-time performance.  Although $65 doesn't sound like a lot, as he pointed out no one walks by 3 twenty's and five. And it totals to millions!

The results?  The next month they were number 4 in on-time performance, and the following month they were number 1!

The thing that caught my attention was when he said that although the financial incentive was important he felt that the most important factor in achieving this was sending a clear, concise, focused message on the importance of reliability:

Clean Safe Reliable

Has it continued to payoff?  For 2005 Continental was:

  • No. 1 among network peers for fewest cancellations
  • No. 1 among network peers for fewest mishandled bags
  • No. 1 among network peers for fewest customer complaints
  • No. 2 among network peers for best on-time performance

Sounds like it to me.

Communicate Execute Adapt

Strategy Execution Insight

Clean Safe Reliable

Isn't it amazing what can happen when you give people a clear message of what you expect?

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ITBWA - How Dirty Are Your Shoes? Fri 27 Oct 06

Boots1_2 A few years ago a programmer came to me and expressed difficulty understanding some user requirements.  I suggested that they go out to the mill production area and view the operation and sit down with the area manager to work out the issues.  After a bit of hemming and hawing the programmer meekly explained that he couldn't go out to the mill because he didn't know where that particular department was and he didn't have the requisite safety shoes.  His office mate overhearing this conversation proudly proclaimed that he had safety shoes and proceeded to show them to us.  He brought out a box with the shoes still wrapped in the original tissue paper.  The shoes, as clean as the day they were made, had obviously never been used.

It is amazing to think that anyone can think they can design a system without first going out to see how the system will be used, to talk with the people that will use it, or to insist on customer involvement in the design.  And yet, that is a common characteristic in many IT departments. And when we are done we are incredulous when the customer finds fault with it!

Back in the 1980's management guru Tom Peters publicized the concept of MBWA - "Management By Walking Around" originally formulated in the 1940's at HP.  The concept is simple - to find out what is going on in the business, go out and talk with the people actually doing the work, don't isolate yourself in the office looking at the numbers.  Not only is this a great management tool it is also a great form of communication with your customers.  Perhaps we should make it our own -ITBWA - "Information Technology By Walking Around".  If we are going to adequately serve our customers and want to work strategically with them, then we have to get to know them, learn their business and understand their problems.  We have to put on those shoes and go out and get them dirty walking around and meeting our customers.

Some questions that you may want to ask yourself to determine how close you and your IT group is to your customers.

  • Do you and people on your staff regularly attend staff meetings and conferences of the various functions?
  • Have you visited your remote sales office, service centers manufacturing facilities to see how they do things?
  • Have you attended training sessions (e.g. product training for new sales hires) given by the various functions to learn how they operate?
  • Do you regularly meet with your customers where they work rather than the IT offices?
  • Do you know how the products/services your company makes are made, sold and used?
  • Have you ever "shadowed" someone to learn how they do their job and truly use IT?

A friend of mine Russ Svendsen would always remind me, "People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care."  Oh so true!

By the way, those are my safety shoes in the picture.  So, just how dirty are your shoes?

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We need to maximize the number of complaints! Wed 25 Oct 06

Are you receiving enough complaints? After all we want to maximize the number of complaints, right? Although at first blush this seems like a ridiculous idea, it turns out we really need do need to maximize the number of complaints.

Complaints can be a valuable form of communication, albeit not always a pleasant one. But it does mean that you and your customer are talking and interacting. Helpdesks may strive to show a decline in the total number of calls/complaints received in the belief this is a good thing. There are basically 2 ways to get this reduction.

  • You’ve achieved perfection in your operations. In this case sit back, put your feet up and relax.
  • Your customers have learned not to bother calling. If you can’t or won’t respond they will eventually quit calling and instead turn to other alternatives.

Although the results are the same, a decrease in calls, the implications are vastly different. Even when calls decline on one issue because you’ve solved a particular problem they should continue to grow or maintain their level because now people have learned they can call and they will get results. So they will continue to call on new issues. Skeptics may offer a counter argument that poor service will also increase complaints. But this is only temporary, over time customers will get tired of complaining with no response and quit calling. They will as the phrase goes, vote with their feet.

The goal is to get complaints by solving problems which, in turn, encourage your customers to communicate with you not only with complaints but questions and new requests. Complaints and service issues can be a fantastic opportunity for customer interaction. There will always be ups and downs in the level of Helpdesk issues especially as new products or systems are introduced. However, if the long-term overall trend is declining you may want to carefully examine why.

How do you feel about this?

If this topic was of interest, you might also like these:

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Why the CFO? - The Numbers are In Tue 24 Oct 06

Whether the CIO should report to the CFO or the CEO is a hot button issue for most CIO's.  Most CIO's that I know believe they should report to the CEO to make sure IT gets the proper strategic exposure.  In cases where the company views IT as tactical it can report to the CFO.  However, as I mentioned in an earlier post when IT is strategic it should report to the CEO.

Now we have some numbers to back up this assertion.  In his October 23rd blog on CIO.com, Christopher Koch reports some numbers for their "State of the CIO" survey of over 500 IT leaders.   Koch reports, "Having the CIO report to the CFO destroys value in nearly every possible way."  Some key points show that reporting to the CFO results in:

  • More time on tactical, less on strategic
  • Less innovation leadership
  • Less IT value

The difficulty is in the chicken or egg argument.  Does IT report to the CFO because it is tactical or is it tactical because it reports to the CFO?  But as Koch correctly reports, ". . . something is sure to crop up around the corner that could present an opportunity for a company that uses IT tactically to start using it strategically. Bury your CIO inside finance and you'll be sure to miss that opportunity."

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Communicating Effectively - First Impressions Mon 23 Oct 06

Although I didn't really want to talk about dress codes and first impressions, it so happens that while doing some research I came across Jon Emmons blog "Life after Coffee" and in particular an entry entitled "Dress Code, Etiquette And Cultural Guidelines".

This was shortly after an earlier post where I mentioned that Mark Miller of Strategies for Success, Inc. had stated "Your mother was right; you only have one chance to make a first impression.  What she did not tell you is that you only have 15 seconds to do it."  The importance of first impressions is that they set the credibility level for your communications and how well they will be received .Mark explained that much of what creates this first impression is your physical presence.  That is, like it or not, dress, grooming, posture and attitude.

Jon Emmons refers to the Dress Code, Etiquette Requirements and Cross-Cultural Guidelines at Burleson Consulting.  Donald Burleson reinforces the effect of first impressions made by these factors and he does it in a very humorous and memorable way. It is well worth a look.  While you may take exception to these codes Mr. Burleson is quite emphatic that the codes are set by his clients.  Personally, I think there is a lot of practical wisdom in what he says.  Take a look. 

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Conquering Organizational Change Mon 23 Oct 06

All the various business related projects of any significance that IT gets involved involve organizational change to some extent. Pierre Mourier and Martin Smith, Ph.D. have conducted some research on change efforts of all types, including projects with IT aspects and report in "Conquering Organizational Change: How to Succeed Where Most Companies Fail" that "About 70 to 75 percent of major organizational change efforts fail to meet the expectations of key stakeholders". That is a shockingly high and disappointing number.

Some of the positive factors their research found were correlated with project success were:

  • There was visible support from the sponsor throughout the project
  • People understood what they had to do in order to make the change work
  • The change was kept small and manageable
  • There was a detailed plan
  • The change was explained to everyone
  • Progress toward the goals was tracked and publicized

Some of the negative factors their research found were correlated with project failure were:

  • The goals seemed vague
  • There didn't seem to be a plan
  • No one seemed to be in charge
  • People didn't understand the reason for the change
  • The change clashed with the way things are done in the organization
  • There was no attempt to keep people informed

When I first saw these lists they struck me as a BFO (Blinding Flash of the Obvious). After all, haven't all of us participated in informal post-mortems of failed projects and cited many of these items as the reason the project failed.

Fortunately, they do provide more than just formally codifying the positive and negative factors (which is helpful). In Conquering Organizational Change they also provide some straightforward and easy-to-use tools that you can use to do a quick "health check" of your project along with some corrective actions depending on the results. Using these tools at the beginning and throughout the project should significantly improve the chances that you will have a successful project since it will keep you focused on accomplishing the factors that positively correlate to project success. I highly recommend this book.

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Communicating Effectively - Which Language Are You Using? Fri 20 Oct 06

This week I had the opportunity to hear Mark Miller, President of Strategies for Success, Inc. talk on how to communicate effectively the first time, every time.  Mark gave an excellent presentation and stressed 2 key themes.

  • Your mother was right; you only have one chance to make a first impression.  What she did not tell you is that you only have 15 seconds to do it.
  • You need to communicate in a style that matches the way your listener thinks and communicates.

I found the second point especially interesting.  Mark stressed matching your communication style with the listeners  personality type based upon a quick analysis of their DISC behavioral profile.  DISC defines four categories of behavioral styles as "D" for Dominance-Drive-Direct, "I" for Influence, "S" for Steadiness or Stability and "C" for Compliant, Conscientious, or Cautious.  The point of communicating in the listener's style is as Mark said, "People like people like themselves".  If you communicate like they do they are more open and receptive to what you have to say.

I would like to add a corollary to this.  For best communications not only do we need to speak like the other party in the conversation we have to use the same language.  By language I don't mean English, French, Spanish etc.  I'm referring to the code words we all have in our particular profession.  IT in particular loves jargon and acronyms - boy do we love acronyms.

Imagine a conversation with the company controller.  Which do you think he/she would be the most receptive to?

  • I'd like budget approval $X to change our Frame Relay WAN topology to an MPLS IP VPN and also implement VOIP.
  • I'd like budget approval of $X to upgrade our voice and data networks to technology that will make the most efficient use of the combined data and voice capacity which the discounted cash flow analysis indicates will generate an IRR of Y% and a NPV of $Z .

If you use their language, they will be more receptive to what you have to say.  What this leads me to is Schaffner's Rule of Communications to Someone in a Different Profession.  (The nice thing about having your own blog is you get to make your own rules too!)

Schaffner's Rule of Communications to Someone in a Different Profession
When speaking with someone in a different profession, do not use the jargon and acronyms of your profession.  Only use the jargon and acronyms of their profession.

Has anyone tried this?  What have you found that works?

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My Take on which is “Best” - PC versus Mac Wed 18 Oct 06

When people learn that I’m in corporate IT I'm sometimes asked – Which do you think is the best, PC or Mac?  My answer is: Best for what?  Those that feel passionately about this issue seem to feel it is important that we have only one “best”, there just has to be a winner.  Why?  The needs of a gamer are different than the needs of graphic designer which are different than a corporate user which are different than a casual home user.  There is no one “best” computing solution for all uses.  For some reason the search for one “best” device ranks just slightly behind the search for the Holy Grail and the development of a universal solvent.

Simply put, I believe the best solution varies with the need.  Sometimes a Mac is best, sometimes a PC is best.  I have one daughter attending Marquette University (“We Are Marquette”) majoring in communication / advertising layout and we got her a Mac.  My other daughter just started with a PC at the University of Michigan (“Go Blue”) where she wants to go to the business school.

While in corporate IT I considered a number of factors in the selection of computers including:

  • Cost
  • Security
  • Worldwide On-Site Support Availability
  • Software Selection & Availability
  • Cost of switching
  • Availability of Software Development Resources

For now that means PC is the best in the corporate environment in my opinion.  Will that ever change?  Maybe.  Each new version of the Windows operating system is usually described as being ever more “Mac like”.  Mac is now releasing Boot Camp to allow Mac users to run Windows XP.  Perhaps when the both become images of each other we can drop the debate and move on to something important.

A PC or Mac is just a means to an end.  The focus should be on the results, not the means.  At the end of the day we need to remember which tool you use isn’t nearly as important as what you do with it. 

What do you think?

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This is the personal blog of Michael W. Schaffner. The opinions expressed in this blog are soley mine and those of commenters. You should not infer that these opinions are the opinion of or have been endorsed by any current or former employer.

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