Obsolescence Happens

Whether planned or not, Obsolescence Happens.

It always seems to sneak up with you, when you least expect it – even when you know it’s coming.

  • That fleet of Smartboards you have dozens of, can suddenly no longer have their firmware updated, because those models are no longer supported by the vendor. And just when you needed the very feature, that the new firmware will allow you to use, too.
  • Your “lifetime warranty” switches, that you bought years ago – now made meaningless – because the vendor no longer makes them. Sure – you can update for a price – but lifetime meant the lifetime of the switch, not yours.
  • You upgrade to the latest and greatest WiFi standard access points, only to find out that your controller needs to have its firmware updated to support them – but by doing so, disables all of your old WiFi standard access points. You can either upgrade your old access points, buy a new, separate controller – or, simply cry into your pillow.

The fact is, any hardware you have in house is going to be obsolete at some point, no matter how well you maintain it, or try to stretch out its lifetime.

Even if it never gives you a minute’s trouble.

Fleet replacement planning is one of the least “sexy” things technology administrators do – but impacts day-to-day sustainability, and success, as much as any other activity.

If you haven’t already put into place a technology / fleet replacement plan for your pcs, infrastructure, and hardware systems, make time to do it now. Or tomorrow. Or, the day after tomorrow.

Because when Obsolescence Happens, it will happen when you can least afford for it to happen. Better to choose your time and place for updating your technology, before the terms are dictated for you.

Remember: need never made a good bargain.

And neither did unexpected outlays of cash, to keep your critical systems running.

 

Audio

Commit Me

It’s mind-boggling, how much energy we spend on unanswered questions… pending decisions… the uncertain future.

It’s the metaphorical equivalent of sitting in your driveway with the engine on, your foot stomped on the gas pedal, all the way to the floor; furiously burning through everything in the tank, but going absolutely nowhere.

Truly, many problems are entirely outside our span of control, perhaps leading us to believe all we can do, is offer up some semblance of the serenity prayer, and simply hope for the best.

Look at the people you know, who are successful. Who achieve. Who get things done.

What trait makes them so effective at what they do, while others seem to sputter and fall?

They are able to commit. And, to reap the immediate benefits that commitment brings along with it.

Commitment

When you wholly commit  – to a course of action, to a strategy, to a purpose – your decision making power, authority, and focus amplifies, by definition. That’s because all the mental energy and head space that you were formerly devoting to indecision, may now be brought to bear in actually doing.

The aphorism, “Don’t let the Perfect, be the enemy of the Good Enough” gets at the heart of the power of commitment. We can freeze ourselves in place, searching for the ultimate, most perfect solution – or, we can move ahead with something that is effective and workable and acceptable – and getting one step closer to achieving what we desire, in our lifetime, rather than never.

The unmade decision is often our biggest regret. It represents opportunity lost. It represents energy lost.

And it represents future lost.

Evaluate your options. Listen to trusted advisors. Consult the Oracles. Search your feelings.

But most importantly: Decide. Commit.

Go and be you.

Audio

You Didn’t Respond… Are You Interested?

Puppet

One thing’s for certain, when you’re in charge of an IT department:

If you don’t control your vendor relations, they will control you.

We get dozens of cold calls and pitches, each and every week, from vendors of every stripe and walk of life.

Most are professional. Many are not.

The communiques that get most under my skin go something like this:

“You Didn’t Respond to my previous x emails… can you let me know if you have any interest in my product or service?”

Asked, and answered.

If we haven’t responded by now, we’re not gonna.

It’s not a question of being a jerk to vendors, or potential vendors. It’s a simple matter of survival.

My job is to further the institutional mission of my employer. Anything that detracts from that mission is non-essential and extraneous.

That especially includes answering unsolicited pitches and cold calls.

Not every pitch requires, or deserves, a response. If I’m interested, I’ll respond. If I’m not, I won’t.

It’s really that simple.

What especially irks me, is when vendors blast every email address at our place of business, asking for the “person responsible for X.” Without fail, this generates a few armloads of inbound junk mail, from well meaning colleagues trying to direct them the “right way.”

My advice to our people in this regard is as follows: I will treat anything from a vendor that they pass along to me as a personal endorsement, with the requisite ownership and accountability that such an endorsement carries.

It effectively keeps the volume of pitches down to what we would buy, what we would consider buying, and things that we actually need.

This approach isn’t anti-vendor. It’s pro us. A stratagem for keeping the signal-to-noise level at a level where the truly useful opportunities aren’t lost in the blaring din of unvetted cries for unsolicited attention.

Exercise your agency. Take ownership of your vendor conversations. Don’t let misplaced obligation rob you of the drive and focus your employer demands and deserves.

Go, and be you.

Being There

One of the major failings of learning geography or history, at least as experienced in classrooms, is the inability to get a genuine sense of place as an actor in the story.

If you’ve never been to Washington, D.C., it’s hard to get a sense of the scale of the place, and why the city is situated where it is. Or, if you’ve never travelled through the swamps of South Carolina, it’s hard to imagine the difficulties the armies faced in simple logistics, moving through this harsh and challenging terrain, during the American Revolutionary War.

This week, we’ve been reminded of the vast distances between where we live, and the far-flung reaches of the outer edge of our solar system. Even traveling 30,000 miles per hour, it took the New Horizons spacecraft ten years to reach Pluto… and it has been only in the past week that Pluto has become for us, for the first time in history, a place.

I’ve worked remotely on projects, often for years at a time. It was a successful model for me as a developer. But it is still a model with a very serious drawback – it’s inability to transcribe place as a component in how business actually happens.

Our presence allows us to experience serendipity – unplanned, unexpected, and spontaneous discovery – that aids in our understanding of all that a place is.

Place

If we could send actual geologists to any of the planets, they would discover more in 30 minutes time, than all the robotic explorers we can send in the next 100 years could ever suss out.

There’s a value in being there, that can’t be replicated through technology.

It’s more than sensory.

Being there is often the difference between totally “getting it”, or missing understanding altogether.

Go, and be you.

Audio

First Principles

You have to crawl, before you walk… and walk, before you run.

This is only one of many examples in life, where one must master the fundamentals, before moving onto something more advanced.

But we are too often sidetracked by the new and the shiny, on our way to becoming disruptive innovators.

We forget that in order to be successful, we first have to remain true to our First Principles, our core mission, our raison d’etre, before attempting the fancy stuff.

Because if you can’t do the bare minimum of what defines you as a person, as an employee, or as a professional – you’ve failed before you’ve started.

Remember: before going out to conquer and change the world, make sure you’ve taken care of the basics at home, first.

Establish trust in doing the core things required of your position.

Then, feel free to disrupt and innovate, when you’ve proven that you’ve kept the main thing, the main thing.

Go, and be you.

Audio

It’s Not You. It’s Us.

Relationships are tough.

There’s the understatement, of this, or any, century.

When they’re good, they’re great.

When they’re bad, they’re intolerable.

Yet – we seem to overwhelmingly tolerate bad relationships, even when it’s blatantly obvious that the relationship is uneven, or when it is unhealthy for us, or when we could do much better, by just getting up, and walking away.

Why is that?

It’s because all real relationships are composed of contact, experience, and time.

When a single occurrence of an interaction between two people (or two companies) occurs, it is just a transaction (contact). However, what begins to build relationship between the two parties, is a series of such transactions (experience) over a prolonged period (time).

It’s the way friendship works. It’s the way love works. It’s the way family works.

What makes bad relationships difficult to walk away from, is the sunk cost we have in our experiences, and in the amount of time we devoted to cultivating the relationship.

Let’s bring the conversation back from the touchy-feely, and into the concrete, day-to-day world of vendor relationships.

Why do we put up with bad vendor relationships?

Because we need the vendor. Or we don’t know any better. Or we’re forced to use them by rule or dictate.

But I’m guessing, more likely than not, it’s because we have invested too much time, and emotional investment, in the relationship, to simply walk away.

Your vendors know this. They count on it.

Pull Quote 29

A wise friend of mine once told me: need never made a good bargain.

If you want to have healthy vendor relationships, you have to be willing to walk away, when the relationship no longer provides more benefit than pain, or when better alternatives outweigh the overall good that the vendor relationship brings.

This is always easier to see from the outside, than it is if you have a personal investment (prestige, standing, ego) in a bad vendor relationship.

Life – and career – is too short to put up with poor service, neglect, and victimization.

You have to be willing to say: It’s not you. It’s us.

Go, and be you.

Audio

You Do Know Why We’re Here, Right?

One of the “occupational hazards” of working with a blogger is the real possibility you might be obliquely quoted or referenced in a post. Today is one such day, though I will protect the anonymity of my colleague.

Recently, we started working with a collaborative workgroup package, one of the handful of unicorn startups you’ve probably read about.

Our impetus behind using the package, is to close a hole in our customer service footprint, a hole that many service organizations also suffer – the gap between recording incidents in your internal ticketing system, and responding in real-time to customer service needs, that require an immediate response.

As I was explaining our use case to a colleague, they said: “You realize that our users will want to use this all the time?!?

Yes. Yes I do. That’s why we’re doing it.

This exchange underscores an attitude that I’ve seen at many, many service organizations, particularly IT shops: the feeling that we don’t want to be bothered with user problems.

And every time I run across this in the wild, I think: You Do Know Why We’re Here, Right?

Pull Quote 28

In this specific case, this person has only been exposed to a particular brand of customer service; albeit a not-very-friendly-to-customers brand of customer service.

Our challenge, which is by no means unique, is to re-wire our thinking about customer service, particularly customer service as practiced at a learning institution.

The school doesn’t exist for the IT department; the IT department exists because of the school.

Many companies have mission statements, but few who work there can rattle them off on command.

Your true “mission statement” is to serve those who depend upon your services and abilities. Your people should be able to ascertain what that mission statement is, by simply looking at how you go about your work, serving others.

Know why you’re here.

Go, and be you.

Audio

Comfortably Numb

Winner

Count the number of times per day you encounter the following:

That’s the way we’ve always done it.

It is what it is.

We can try, but it won’t do any good.

Those words you’re hearing? That’s surrender.

The only proven way I’ve found to counter surrender, is through a series of wins.

Small successes at first, to be sure… but building up to bigger and bigger victories, as people learn to trust in your ability to deliver.

Doing what you say you will do. On time. On budget.

The old saying goes “nothing breeds success, like success.”

What this really means is that people gain confidence, through seeing performance and achievement occur, right before their very eyes.

So – when you encounter an environment where skepticism is the norm, and pessimism is the standard operating procedure, come in with a goal of attaining one small success in the first two weeks. Another goal of attaining a bigger success in the first thirty days. Still another goal that is larger still, to be achieved in the first ninety days.

Success will breed success, and you will win people over.

The key objective is to change the dialog, from defeatism to optimism, by building one success atop the other.

Don’t say trust me. Don’t challenge the status quo day one.

Meet people where they are. Show them a pathway to success.

And then, lead them there, one win at a time.

Go, and be you.

100 Things You Are Doing Wrong on Social Media | Oracle Marketing Cloud

Doing it Wrong

100 Things You Are Doing Wrong on Social Media

via 100 Things You Are Doing Wrong on Social Media | Oracle Marketing Cloud.

Choking on an Elephant

Elephant

This morning, I was going to riff on some tired tripe about “eating an elephant… one bite at a time.”

And then realized: I would hate reading something like that.

Ugh.

Even so, tackling seemingly unassailable – and impossible-seeming – projects has been very much top of mind for me these days. And honestly, it is making me put my best problem solving, King Solomon decision making skillz to the test.

Without falling back into tired homilies, then – how does one begin managing the unmanageable?

Identify the “big problem.” First, you must understand the big problem needing to be solved. Surprisingly, many projects go off the rails at this very step. Correctly identifying what the big problem to be solved is, and keeping it at the center of every conversation in the project, is vital to having a successful outcome on the other end of the process.

Break the big problem down. Once you identify the “big problem”, begin deconstructing the process by which you will obtain a solution. Draw pictures. Paste stickies to the wall. Create user personas and user stories. Create tasks that are understood by the team, and make sure everyone on the team understands how each task leads to the completion of the big problem.

Assign responsibility. Once the big problem has been deconstructed into manageable chunks, the next step is to assign responsibility to the oversight of each element in the process. Maybe it’s a project lead, or engagement manager. Perhaps it’s even a user. Someone, or a collective group of someones, must ultimately be accountable to each element of work.

Set milestones. As travelers, we know where we are, by the milestones we pass along the way. The same is true of our projects. Milestones are those events in the life of projects, by which we gauge our progress – or the lack thereof. Defining milestones is not a passive activity – it requires careful thought and communication, and may not be strictly defined by individual sub-projects within the project. It might be when “minimal viable product” is reached. Or, when you can invoice for the next payment. Whatever your milestones are, they should be broadly visible, universally understood, and tied directly back to those held responsible (see previous paragraph).

Monitor progress. If you adhere to an Agile development process, you monitor your progress through your scrums and by what is accomplished through each run. If you are less formal, perhaps you simply check in with your team on a regular basis. Whatever your style, methodology, or philosophy, you need some form of continuous feedback to let you know where you are. And by monitor, I don’t mean show up when a milestone is supposed to be complete, and expect everything to be hunky-dory. Be engaged. Be attentive. Be proactive.

Adjust as needed. This is a natural consequence of monitoring progress. Because – surprise, surprise – all our well laid plans have to exist in the real world, where vacations, life, unforeseen events, and plain old human frailty conspire to bring our projects to a screeching halt. You need to be flexible, and make mid-game adjustments, if you ever want to foster your behemoth project to a successful end.

Now, your mileage will definitely vary. And, if you’re fortunate enough, you will live through many iterations of current management style, speak, and methodologies throughout the course of your career.

What your project management success will ultimately boil down to, is mastering how to go about solving “intractable problems”, regardless of the fact-dependent and unique circumstances of each individual project – and applying those lessons learned from each engagement, toward the betterment of the next project you encounter.

Go, and be you.