Monday, May 31, 2010

Decisive Action

There are far too many people out there, at all levels, from top management to entry level, that are allergic to taking decisive action. Now a decisive action does not mean a stupid action. It does not mean an improperly thought out, unplanned, immature action. I mean the type of action where a stand of some sort is made and held to instead of the typical wishy-washy let’s stay forever safe and not get anywhere type of fence sitting that has resulted in the IT industry being so chaotic and unstructured.

Not every minute of every day is going to require decisive action. But when the need for such action is required, it is imperative that it be taken. Perhaps the greatest general ever, Napoleon Bonaparte, was famous for taking decisive actions that would alter the course of history, sometimes in the thick of battle. What he is less famous for is the huge amount of planning and preparation he went through prior to his decision making. The result? A legend, who almost took over all of Europe.

Now, we in our cubicles and offices need not worry about being a Napoleon, making life or death decisions, but the principle remains the same as does the benefit. So how does all this apply to IT Process Improvement? To cite just one example, when a decision to implement a methodology is made, it should be implemented with a decisive, do or die energy. Now this does not mean that it should not be carefully monitored and course corrections taken. This does not mean that risk analysis and mitigation be not performed. It does mean that we don’t give up at the first obstacle that comes by or worse even not take the decision to implement an improvement in the first place. Even an entry level person in his cubicle can apply decisive action taking in small and measured ways. Of course, if the organizational culture is one of non-decisiveness then it may be best to be discrete in this aspect as I can testify by my own experiences. This is an ideology that is most effective when applied by the senior management and it naturally trickles down to the lower levels as the organizational culture becomes imbued with a certain fearlessness.

Plan carefully and then take decisive action. This has always been the way of the truly successful.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Unwanted Stepchild

Speaking with a client last week, I was yet again made to realize the lack of emphasis placed on continual improvement at all levels within the organization. The roles in their organization were based on frantic attempts to make it through the day with essentially no emphasis on any sort of improvement initiatives. It would seem that improvement is considered the stepchild in most IT organizations. And yet this is the most effective long term strategy an organization can employ to get ahead of the competition.

Oh sure, there is a conceptual agreement that there should always be continual improvement. However, when the rubber hits the road, it all falls apart. Why is this?

Mostly, it’s a lack of commitment and follow-through at all levels within the organization. Lack of planning and not keeping up with changing techniques and methodologies is also to blame. Perhaps most telling of all is what I hear consistently that not all new methodologies are “good”. Or just because some governing body has released a new body of knowledge, it is not necessary to implement it. Perhaps so, but it is surely necessary to be aware of it and at least consider it. On this topic, I would like to emphasize that most reputable governing bodies (PMI, ASQ, QAI etc.) have very deeply field tested bodies of knowledge. These techniques and methodologies were created by academics and industry professionals and then utilized in the field numerous times before even being brought to the public. Most people are unaware that ITIL is over 21 years old. Things don’t stay around for 21 years in the IT industry unless there is something to them.

The fact of the matter is that there are a huge number of improvement tools, techniques and methodologies out there. But the desire to implement all this needs to be realized. Until then, continual improvement will remain an unwanted stepchild.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Sifting Through the Avalanche

With the topic of age and leadership analyzed to death in the last couple of weeks, an issue that came up repeatedly was is there really a necessity for constant learning by everyone. The challenging thing about this issue is that there is a huge volume of information and change coming at us all at the speed of light. So how do we sift through this vast amount of information in a way that most benefits us? Clearly, we cannot ignore all this information and do nothing. And yet it is humanely impossible for one person to learn everything. So what is the answer?

The most obvious starting point would be to specialize in one’s area of expertise. This means that a Project Manager should pay special attention to the changes in tools, techniques and methodologies that are occurring in the area of project management and to ensure that they learnt what was important and relevant to them. However, staying current in one’s area of specialization is the bare minimum required nowadays.

It is at this point that the IT professional must choose where they wish to move towards in terms of their career and longer term goals and keep current with that. Also, one area that most IT professionals would do well to master is the use of proper terminology and an awareness of what the industry standard is even if it is not utilized at their place of work. A higher level learning of overall management techniques such as ITIL and CMMI may also be a good idea, irrespective of specialization.

Over and above this, folks will want to keep up with the culture of the times which is changing all the time as well. It was not very long ago that Facebook, Twitter and MySpace were pretty much unheard of. Now Facebook has overtaken Google for the number of hits worldwide. Clearly this is something both individuals and organizations must keep abreast of now.

It’s getting to be so that constant learning is now a mandatory part of our lives. It’s a question of how smart we can be about it. Like anything else it’s going to be a challenge of getting the most bang for the buck, or in this case, time.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Age and Leadership 2 – Stayin’ Hip

Last week’s post on age and leadership sparked some lively debate on various discussion boards. The range of issues brought forward by various people and their points of view resulted in a continuation of the topic with this week’s post. Many thanks to the people who posted their point of view and sparked debate and discussion. After all that is what a blog is all about.

Let us start at the beginning. As IT projects usually start with requirements definition, let us also start with the requirements necessary for leadership positions. After all how can we discuss the effect that age has on leadership abilities when the leadership abilities themselves are undefined? Some of the criteria for effective leadership are:

  • Communication skills

  • Problem solving skills

  • Adaptability to change

  • Time management

  • Stress management

  • Interpersonal relations and teamwork

  • Ability to set goals and articulate a vision

  • Managing conflict

This is, of course, not a comprehensive list, but it does cover most of the criteria. The interesting thing about this list is that it has been true and relatively unchanged for millennia. So how does the current age of information and technology affect these criteria? How are these issues affected by the fact that we are in the year 2010?

Adaptability to change has never been as important and that too, at all levels. Market changes, customer preference changes, technology changes, methodology changes, tools and technique changes are all occurring at incredible speed. Of course not all changes are necessary or even good. However, the ability to make the decision on which change to implement is necessary and this can only be achieved by being very well informed and in touch with what is current.

Furthermore, all the other criteria now require knowledge of the latest tools and techniques to accomplish effectively. Time management is not possible without the latest handheld device and mail, VoIP and other technologies today.

For true leadership, the ability to read the future, i.e. the visionary capability, is impossible without a thorough understanding of the market and the culture of the times, which is vastly different from just 10 years ago. I, myself, have to keep going to to lookup words that did not exist a few years ago.

So what emerges is that a great deal of extra effort is required by all professionals nowadays and senior management in particular to keep up with all that is necessary to perform their duties effectively. What steps could be taken to achieve these leadership abilities relevant to our times? Some effective steps that can be undertaken are:

  • Constant learning (or at the least, awareness) of new technology and methodologies

  • Regular association with younger people and observance of their activities

  • Staying current of the "lingo" used nowadays (which is a job in and of itself)

  • Being open to change and constantly adapting to the new changes in technology AND culture.

In my opinion, the professional who performs these steps will be useful irrespective of age. Even an 18 year old who fails to perform these steps will be obsolete. Perhaps the moral of the story is that we must remain in a state of constant learning more than ever before.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Age and Leadership

Top executives tend to be on the older side and this for the most part makes sense. After all they have accumulated years of experience and this must surely translate to an effective implementation of said experience to drive the company to new heights. Or does it? Could we have a 30 year old CIO performing better than a 60 year old CIO? This week’s post is more about getting your opinion and views on this issue, so please do go ahead and post your comments and opinions.

Let us consider the argument of experience: after all that is about the only positive thing aging brings to you. Everything else is negative in that the body and (to some extent) the mind begin to degenerate, never to reach the prime levels once achieved (typically between age 18-21). So given that experience (and I include the accumulation of knowledge over the course of years as experience) is the prime advantage of an older person in a leadership role, does this really apply to IT leadership and in particular the CIO role?

IT leadership and the CIO role in particular require a great deal of constantly updating your entire paradigm of how IT functions on a regular basis. After all you have to lead the way not only in understanding new techniques and methodologies but also in creating and implementing them. Furthermore, market share must be captured where the market consists of “playas” that SMS, IM, Tweet and MySpace each other. I, myself, have to work consistently towards keeping myself in touch with the terminology utilized by the younger generation and find urban dictionary ( an invaluable tool for doing so. But the point I would like to raise is will a 60 year old be able to be in tune with this new market and all its peculiarities? Will a 60 year old have the capacity to constantly learn new techniques and methodologies all the time? I know that is what I find myself doing and believe me there are times when it is a lot of work and I find myself pushing beyond my limits. So there emerges a counter argument that while a older person will have experience, will he/she have the CORRECT experience that will be of value in this brave, new world?

There are, of course, no clear and obvious answers to this quandary. I am in no way suggesting that the old timers be shipped to the glue factory immediately. However, I would certainly recommend that the old paradigm of only allowing older folks to reach high levels of leadership not be adhered to blindly. My prediction is that we will see more and more organizations appoint younger professionals in leadership positions. This is already happening as we blog.