Are You Asking Questions?

October 7, 2010

A nice article titled; The electronic health record meets the iPad from IT World Canada.

The articles demonstrates how Mr. Dale Potter, chief information officer at the Ottawa Hospital improved IT services at the hospital exponentially.

There is one key quotation that I want to point out regarding Mr. Potter’s work;

….. asked physicians how much of the information they needed in their work was available …

Look at the very first word in that quotation.

Asked

Asking questions.

How often does your IT Leadership actually do that? Or do they try to be prescriptive without asking those questions first?

The SMB Takeaway

Ask questions and then truly listen. Only then can you begin thinking of solutions or alternatives. It won’t always be easy.

Ask Questions

Photo Credit Leo Reynolds via flickr

On IT Resistance To Change

October 5, 2010

I met a consultant a few days ago that provides SME organizations with implementation assistance in the CRM (customer Relationship Management) space.

In his career,  he saw the writing on the wall and had migrated his skills from dealing solely with on premises software (where you shell out money for servers, software licenses and then try to glue it all together in your office) to tools supplied as a SaaS, or hosted  model.

In our talk he made a comment that I found all too indicative of many IT organizations in the small to medium enterprise. I can’t remember the exact words, so I am paraphrasing a bit here;

.. in larger SME businesses, the most resistance to the SaaS model is their IT departments, it is as if the IT folks need to be able to hug a server..

That is – unfortunately sad….

Because when any part of your business starts thinking in silos, it  leads a business to operate in silos too. That goes for your IT Leadership as well.

In the Small to Medium Enterprise, your IT Leadership must be thinking beyond hugging servers. Beyond the silo of what they prefer, or what they like.

As Philip Papadopoulos of the Papadopoulos Group mentioned to me on twitter;

IT should always be pro-active, approach the business with ways to solve their problems meet their goals

Strategy, Goals &  IT

If your IT Leadership feel that unless they are hugging a server they are really not doing their job, then there is some internal IT change that needs to be taking place.

Your business technology must support your organizational strategies and your business goals. And that can include the tactical decisions you make to support those goals.

Mark McDonald at Gartner writes; (emphasis mine)

The strategist has a point in that new technologies and service models are changing the foundation and underpinnings for IT. The move from IT functions, to solutions and now to services reflects a major change in the way IT works that will require CIOs and leaders to prepare.

The SMB Takeaway

In some cases ‘hugging a server’ may be the recommended solution for a business requirement. But for your technology team to refuse to look at the way technology is changing, and to refuse to look at the ways that this changing technology will impact costs or growth, then they are not doing their job.

Simply but, there is no right answer for every business or situation. But you won’t ever get a right answer in your business technology if you aren’t even asking the questions.

IT, Age, and Skills Training

September 27, 2010

I was honored to be interviewed by Dave Webb for ComputerWorld Canada in this piece titled; IT doesn’t handle aging well (registration required)

The interview covered my dislike for how the technology field tends to throw out skills and buy new ones, rather than educate or train;

“We do have a bad reputation (in IT) as body shops, looking for two years’ experience in a six-month-old technology,”

And from a second interviewee, Lori Keith;

“without exception, classmates from the IT field were there on their own nickel”

Other industries don’t do this – why IT?

On Context Blindness

September 21, 2010

I am sure most of us have had this happen; you run into someone familiar and then stand there drawing a blank.

You are completely lost for words.

You know that you recognize this individual, but you  just can’t place from where.

Then the light bulb clicks on! the familiar face is a child’s teacher, the owner of your local dry cleaner, or the gas bar jockey you see twice a week.

This disconnect when we see people that we are familiar with, but outside of the context that we usually see them, well – it can throw us for a loop. Our mental circuitry seems to have difficulty in making that association without that associations familiar context.

Let me relate a story, and then ask how this type of context blindness may be affecting us as leaders and managers in our businesses.

A Tech Guys Context Blindness (mine)

It started simply enough, about two years ago we bought a new, fairly high end refrigerator. Over the past couple of months we have been getting frustrated as this new machine has been acting up. The first service call had the technician basically tell us that nothing was wrong. (lets not get into service call ‘sometime between 9 and 5’ here)

But the issues persisted, so we called for service again.

I gave the service technician the outline of what the symptoms were, and the technician instantly replied;

I know this area, you have lots of power surges out here….

Before he finished the above phrase – it smacked me like a punch in the stomach.

Because?

#1 I have been in technology for 20 years, and I know rule number one!  And that rule states that if there is a computer style circuit board anywhere in a device, put it on an electrical surge suppressor to protect it from power spikes.

#2 Logically I knew that the refrigerator had a computer circuit board, simply because all of its controls for the temperature settings,  automatic defrost etc. are all digital!

The Blindness

Simply put – my mental context of protecting computer circuit boards with electrical surge protectors, failed to connect the mental dots between what I know about protecting electronic devices, and what I know about this refrigerator.

And yes – the problem with my refrigerator? that circuit board had blown, usually caused by power spikes.

And Our Business?

Do you have a context specific form of tunnel vision? where you know A and you know B, but is there a piece missing that could turn out to be a new product or service?

Have you mechanized your thinking too the point where you cannot notice the pain point that could be crying out for a solution?

Have you been desperately searching for some way to purchase innovation, when managing this missing context is right before your eyes?

The SMB Takeaway

I am entering this week determined to take a new look at everything that I know within the context of our business. Because who knows if another piece of context blindness is lurking around.

PS, I purchased a new computer grade surge suppressor for my refrigerator.

Chris Dancy of ServiceSphere (@servicesphere on Twitter) tweeted this excellent 10 page (PDF) Executive Overview of IT Service Management (ITSM) and ITIL.

The PDF contains a succinct, and brief overview of the benefits of improving IT Service Management, with some easy to understand demonstrations of visual signs of poor ITSM.

If you are an executive wondering what the fuss is about with ITIL and ITSM, this document is a great summary.

Note, if you have been following this blog for a while, you will note some terminology changes compared to what I have written. This is simply because my experience has been with Version 2 of the ITIL framework, and this document summarizes ITIL utilizing the newer process terminology contained within Version 3 of the framework.

If you are looking into ITIL, I highly recommend checking out ServiceSphere at the above link, on twitter too!

On Meetings

August 11, 2010

In last weeks book review about ReWork by Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson I mentioned that you may not agree with every point the authors mention.

I think the one point in that text I don’t fully agree with is the one on meetings.

The authors, to paraphrase slightly, state; don’t have meetings at all, except in an emergency.

For most of us SME’s, there are good reasons that you should have meetings.

1) In many small to medium businesses here is the primary disconnect I often see when dealing with IT staff or suppliers.

The business management responsible for IT?

Well, they never speak to technology staff unless something is broken. For non-technology managers (ie COO, CFO etc) responsible for their IT, if you are not in regular communication and demanding both tactical and strategic updates, I consider you to be abdicating, not delegating your technology function.

2) You know the old story of the blind men trying to identify an elephant when they can only touch very small pieces?

In our fast paced world, many of us travel, many of us also work solo – often not even in the same location. We can begin to get a feeling of The big picturedisconnect, a feeling of absence. We begin to lose sight of the bigger picture. We begin to be like the blind men, never seeing that bigger picture.

An occasional meeting (even with only video) can help keep people feeling connected and ‘in the loop’. Enabling them to take a look at that elephant.

3) Simply enough – Ambiguity.

Have you every been caught in email CC (carbon copy) hell as people argue, negotiate or discuss?

I am sure most of us have!

Email or other non-visual methods of communication when the issue is explicit instructions or a request, I agree – no need to waste time on a meeting.

But if there is any form of ambiguity? if participants need to negotiate? to discuss? to resolve? (even on a one to one basis) Get it on the table, and get it cleared up quickly. Don’t sit through eight hours of back and forth email hell.

The Caveat

With the above being said, I disagree with vague, useless, time sucking meetings just as much as any body else!

You don’t need everybody in the company to attend a meeting, only the people required for a decision.

Proper agenda, and follow it. Don’t wander off track.

Explicitly clarify and repeat what was decided – and what was not decided – and summarize the  next steps and each deliverable.

The SMB Takeaway

There are many really, really bad meetings going on in most of our businesses, yes – you need to fix them! but a blanket No meetings! is usually not the right response.

Photo Credit decafinata via flickr

Book Review: ReWork

August 5, 2010

I recently read ReWork by Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson of 37Signals.ReWork

(published by Crown Books ISBN 9781407062853)

Let me say it; A must read for every entrepreneur and SME business manager! I say that because to effectively cover this book – I would have to rewrite it all here word for word!

Rather than being written as a lecture or treatise, each chapter is a loose federation of points, with each point dedicated to one thought, and each thought is a only a couple of pages.

Some of these lessons you have heard before, for example, on Competitors; Who cares what they are doing?

But under Promotion; Out teach your competition is one example of brilliance. Or on Progress; Throw less at the problem

You may not agree with every point. But if you have to defend your argument – you win both ways.