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Are Your Projects "LAME"? Fri 30 Mar 07

LameI'm a big advocate of Lean methodologies as a way to improve a company's operations and therefore I follow a number of Lean related blogs.  Jon Miller in a recent posting, Here are 4.5 Signs that Your Lean May be L.A.M.E. at Gemba Panta Rei talks about Lean is getting a unjust reputation due to poor implementations.  Miller refers to Mark Graban at the Lean Blog who coined the term L.A.M.E as "Lean As Misguidedly Executed".  In essence, the problem isn't with the concept of Lean but rather how it is implemented.

The same holds true for many of the IT related projects we work on.  Our projects start out with a lot of hope and great expectations and as time goes on people become disillusioned and disappointed with the outcome.

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Customer Service - A Real Life Example Wed 28 Mar 07

Sitemeterlogo I use Sitemeter to collect statistics on visitors to my blog.  It is an excellent product that provides me information on how many visits and pageviews I've had, geographic location (don't worry, it is just to the city level - it doesn't give me your home address), length of visit, how they were referred to me and what search terms they used if it was the result of using a search engine among other items.  I also use Statcounter, IceRocket and Google Analytics.  They all give similar information although each has its own way of presenting and summarizing the data.  I do use all 4 products but use Sitemeter the most.  I do a quick scan of Sitemeter every day to get a feel of how people are finding me and what articles are of most interest.

Because I use Sitemeter extensively and really like it, it has been disappointing to recently suffer 2 problems with their service.  Unfortunately, this type of situation is not unusual with IT service providers.  However it is important because as I will show later in this post it does have customer (revenue generation) impact.  I bring this up not to complain (well OK maybe a little) but to use this as an example of how these situations could have been mitigated and customer service improved with very little effort and little or no cost.  Perhaps we can all learn from this.

OK, so by now you may be saying what happened and what, Mr. IT Hotshot, should they have done about it?

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Are You Ready To Throw Away Your Safety Glasses? Mon 26 Mar 07

Safetyglasses2 Jon Miller in his blog on Lean methodologies, Gemba Panta Rei has a very thought provoking post where he suggests Safety Glasses Are a Sign of Unsafe Processes.  Most U.S. factories require you to wear safety glasses whenever you go out on the factory floor.  The reason for this is to protect you from flying debris.  However, if you had safe processes in place, adequate machine guarding to be specific, you wouldn't have flying debris and you wouldn't need safety glasses on the factory floor anymore than you would need them in the office.

Miller goes on to explain:

The Japanese consultants I worked with always puzzled at why American and European factories had such inadequate guarding at the source of the debris. They used to say that safety glasses are a sign of unsafe processes. I think of safety glasses as an sign of a process that is far from ideal, just like inventory is a sign of a lack of flow or forklifts are a sign of disconnected processes.

It is hard to refute the logic of the argument that you wouldn't need safety glasses if you had a safe process, and yet . . .   So while all this is an interesting mental exercise what does it have to do with IT?

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Are Your Sales Tools a One-Way Street? Fri 23 Mar 07

NosaleIt's all about your customers.  Sales drive the company's profitability and growth.  We have to get closer to our customers.  These are some generally accepted universal truths for success in business.  These concepts are also something IT folks like because they represent a great opportunity for IT to apply technology tools to support these concepts and also show we really can be strategic.

IT and software sales people have done a great job of selling CRM (Customer Relationship Management) and SFA (Sales Force Automation) systems to company leaders.  All you have to do is implement these systems and you'll have the information you need to understand your market and your customers and manage the relationship in an efficient manner while growing sales.  We can hardly wait for "go-live", sales will go through the roof.

Despite all these high hopes these tools have a reputation of disappointment, a failure to live up to the expectations.  The sales force fights the use of these tools and loudly proclaims "I told you so" with every failure.

Is this a failure of the technology or a failure in the implementation?

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Director of First Impressions Wed 21 Mar 07

HandshakeRecently I had occasion to visit the headquarters of the large company here in Houston.  Stepping off of the elevator I came to the reception desk on which there were 2 signs.  One sign listed the name of the receptionist.  The second sign listed her "title", Director of First Impressions.  What a refreshing display of the realization that the impression people form of your organization starts with there very first contact regardless of who it is.  It was obvious that the receptionist understood that.  She was very professional and efficient in answering incoming calls while greeting visitors.  At the same time through her demeanor you felt like you had her attention and that she (and by extension her company) was happy to see you there.  She (and thereby her company) made a great first impression.

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Another Day In Paradise? Mon 19 Mar 07

ParadiseI recently ran across 2 articles that have a major theme in common.  The first was an eWeek.com article by Deborah Perelman entitled How to Stop the Dilbertization of IT.  She is of course referring to life in IT as a cubicle gnome beset by meaningless tasks, vague strategies and clueless leadership as personified by the comic strip Dilbert.  The bottom line in this environment is that IT isn't fun any more.  This naturally generates the question, "If I'm not enjoying working here why should I stay?".

Mary Ann Maxwell recently published an opinion piece (Hidden Talent) in MIS magazine on the need to keep people happy as a way of retaining them.  In line with Perelman's article Maxwell asks the critical question:

Why would a talented person want to work here?

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Making Your Email More Effective; A Lesson From Lincoln Fri 16 Mar 07

Abrahamlincolnbw13 This past President's Day Mary Schmidt had a posting Write Like Lincoln suggesting that we resist the urge to "flame" someone or send a "nasty gram" email when we were upset.  In her post Mary referenced Tim Sanders post Write letters like Lincoln, to yourself.  The suggested technique is to go ahead and write the email and then send it to yourself and then wait to read it.  Hopefully after you see it in "print" and have cooled down you may be more inclined to approach this in a more constructive manner. 

Abraham Lincoln is famous for doing this.  He would vent his frustrations with his generals in letters he would never send.  This gave him the emotional release with out hindering his ability to inspire and lead.  What an excellent idea.

In following the links from Mary's blog to Tim Sanders I discovered that he has a number of excellent suggestions for dealing with email.

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It's Not What You Say, It's What People Hear Thu 15 Mar 07

Words_that_workMy wife Bridget recently heard a radio interview with Dr. Frank Luntz about his new book and the power of words to shape our thinking.  She suggested that I read it and I always try to follow her suggestions for many reasons one of which is that they are always worthwhile suggestions.  Luntz's book Words That Work does a great job of helping you craft your message.  It is all based on one recurring theme which happens to be the subtitle of the book:

It's Not What You Say, It's What People Hear

That is an extremely important concept -- considering our message from the listener's perspective and not our own.  As Luntz states,

You can have the best message in the world, but the person on the receiving end will always understand it through the prism of his or her own emotions, preconceptions, prejudices and preexisting beliefs.  It's not enough to be correct or reasonable or even brilliant.  The key to successful communication is to take the imaginative leap of stuffing yourself right into your listener's shoes to know what they are thinking and feeling in the deepest recesses of their mind and heart.  How that person perceives what you say is even more real, at least in a practical sense, than how you perceive yourself.

Fortunately, he provides us with Ten Rules of Effective Language.

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How Am I Doing? Wed 14 Mar 07

Edkoch_1 Ed Koch the mayor of New York City from 1979 to 1989 is renowned for walking around NYC and cheerfully asking everyone "How Am I Doing?" Actually, it was closer to "How'm I doin'?" but it's hard to type with a New York accent. Koch was ahead of his time since what he was doing was a version of a Gemba Walk.  The whole point of his question was to engage his constituents to find out what was important to them and to see how he measured up against their needs and expectations. What an excellent idea! Sometimes all you have to do to find out what people are thinking is ask.  It really can be that simple.

This is a great tool to use at work with our key stakeholders, customers and employees. This can also work at home although I'd advise against referring to your family members as key stakeholders or customers and don't even think of using 'employees'.  You may not like what you hear but at least once you know about an issue you can address it.  After all, you can't address a concern that you don't know about.  I think it can also apply to blogging.  And so dear readers I ask,

"How am I doing?"

Please leave a comment with your name or anonymously, good or bad. Tell me what you like or dislike, what you'd like to see more in my blog or less of. Let me know what's on your mind.  I can't promise that I'll be able to do anything in response but I can promise I'll listen.

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Are You a Policy Parrot? Mon 12 Mar 07

Parrots_andy_tinkhamI've been enjoying Matt Moran's stories about "when customer service personnel become policy education experts - explaining to you the policy versus listening and reasoning through your concern or situation."  He calls them his Policy Parrot stories.  We all have these stories.  It is a common situation where have a problem and are extremely frustrated only to hear "Squawk! I'm sorry but our policy doesn't allow . . . Squawk!"  The parrot label is very appropriate.

In hindsight these stories always seem humorous especially if someone else is the "victim".  However, the fun soon disappears if we see ourselves in that story, not as the victim but as the parrot.  Realizing that at times I've been a policy parrot is not a good feeling.  However, as with so many other problem situations the first step in recovery is to recognize that you have a problem.

Continue reading "Are You a Policy Parrot?" »

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