Monday, July 8, 2013

Unified Communications and Small Business

Unified Communications (UC) is that mystical holy grail that ties a company together through communication tools.  It allows you to connect with staff, customers and vendors using a standard set of tools.  These powerful sets of tools include things like VoIP phone systems, video conferencing, instant messaging and several other inter-connecting technologies.  They key is that they work together so that they can leverage the common features seamlessly.

UC has helped many companies in many ways, but typically these companies are mid-size to large enterprise companies.  What about the small guy?  You know, the mainstream of America, the small business.  The mom & pop; the small company with fewer than 50; or those small companies that are on the verge of mid-size that just needs that little push.  UC can really help these companies as well.

Over the past year I have been integrating UC throughout one small-size company on the verge of mid-size.  We have had several successes; some failures and the effort is still on going.  I would like to share some lessons learned from our efforts.

Choose your platform carefully
Many solutions exists today and all have matured into very stable ones.  Choose the size; scale and complexity carefully.  First thing is to decide on either a hosted solution or an in-house solution.  Hosting is ideal for the mom & pop size as there is typically no one that works for the company that would be able to put all the pieces together (a techie that works for you).  Leveraging a hosting provider will help make sure all the pieces will fit together.  Their staff knows their products and solutions very well.

For the in-house choice, you will need an in-house technologist. Typically the knowledge that is needed is: networking (Firewalls, routing & quality of service)    experience, PBX phone system knowledge, System administration experience, and Project management experience.  Many of the in-house solutions come as pieces parts and it will take all this knowledge and experience to put it all together, even with the help of solution providers.

Choose your solution provider carefully
Solution providers are abound within technology, however not many exists for UC.  Many can do one part or another, but not many can actually do it all.  For instance, a service provider can install the phone system, deal with the network and tie all the desktops into the solution.  But ask them to integrate the cell phones and they can not achieve the same success.  Then when a trouble is discovered deep in your firewall, the same solution provider is unable to assist because their engineers only know the standard configurations for UC and not the rest of the security concerns of firewalls.

When choosing a hosting provider, ask to talk to other companies that have implemented the solution and then talk to them.  Ask about those things they felt the hosting provider knew well and what they felt they did not know well.  Ask how difficult the implementation went and if there was any other interruptions to existing services, like getting to the Internet.

Don't implement everything right away
Sounds like an idea that is sound, but there are somethings that I would like to make clear.  By implementing every aspect of UC from the start, you will be so overwhelmed with so much to learn that everyone will have problems communicating.  That defeats the purpose of UC.  But on the other hand, you need to get your investment out of UC or why do it. 

First thing to do is work with your solution provider to determine those features that will give the highest impact.  Then plan stages of learning over a few short months.  This will help you determine if those features are the right ones.  There are so many features to UC that it can be very attractive to just "go for it all", but don't fall into this trap.

A typical implementation of UC can take close to a year for any size organization.  You may even need to almost reimplemented a few things, because the original implementation was not clearly defined to the business and the available UC features.

Be weary of "that feature is being release..."

UC is mature, but like all technologies it is forever changing.  What you may see in UC is that a feature works great in one operating system, but is not yet available in another.  For instance, a feature for an instant message to quickly become a multi-participant video conference is available in Windows 7 but the Windows 8 version is still under development.  This goes double for smart phones.  The features may vary greatly from one smart phone device to another.

Standardize, Standardize, Standardize

Once you choose a UC solution, try to use the same technologies as much a possible.  When you mix the pieces-parts of the solution you end up trying to solve extra issues needlessly.  Using the same web cameras on the same desktop operating system helps reduce the number of compatibility issues with UC applications.  Likewise , using the same smart phones or trying to combine UC features within a single version of  Microsoft Office will help reduce issues.

Unified Communications is a very powerful set of tools that can make your small company communicate and stay in touch with staff and customers, just like the big guys.  It will take a very concentrated effort to implement.  Don't have the impression that just by turning it on, the magic will happen.  UC can be complicated, however if you do your homework and create a structured plan, your company will see the benefits of United Communications.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

When the lights don’t turn on

We have all had those times when we believe that something is worth doing because we can do it well. Then we suddenly realize that no matter how well or how good of a job we do; we just can not accomplish the goal. Frustrating as that might sound, there are times when failure is the right answer.

I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that don’t work.

- Thomas Edison

While working on a short contract with a small manufacturing company my instructions were to upgrade their ERP and desktop environment. This small firm had spent the past few years rebuilding itself into a nice tight operation that was turning a profit. However, they realized that some aspects needed improvement to allow the organization to grow. The ERP system tapped for production and sales analysis functionality they hungered for more capabilities. Additionally, due to the older version of the software, the vendor was charging a premium for maintenance and support.

After I created a hardware inventory of the desktops and provided an upgrade path. I handed the implementation over to some exceptional A+ certified technicians. I then turned my attention to the ERP. This monster was built on 4 different database technologies, the likes of which I have never seen before. The core utilized a little known (or used) database engine, Access, Excel and Crystal Report Server (MSDE 2000). Due to a past hardware failure, corrupt data also existed within the system. The vendor conducted the original data recovery; however, they left behind this corrupt data.

Working through the support channel, I was able to obtain all the patches and version updates. This would take the ERP forward 2 full versions (including 12 interim updates), just shy of the latest version. The latest version would require a full MSSQL (2005) environment, not something the company was prepared to deal with. Remember, this is a small manufacture, with no IT staff. They have an individual that comes in a couple of times a week to check on backups and updates. Most appropriate for this size organization.

Taking an old desktop, I created a sandbox version of the existing environment. After a weeks effort to create the environment I was ready to start upgrading. Now I mentioned the corrupt data before, well that was hindsight information. During the upgrade in the sandbox, it was a real problem. Through some strong persuasion, the vendor fixed the data in a custom update patch as part of the covered support maintenance. By the end of the third week, I had a fully updated sandbox to the level needed.

During the sandbox upgrade process, I conducted interviews with all staff to determine what specific functionality utilized. This allowed me to review the completely upgraded sandbox system separately and not interrupt production staff for early testing. I did discover that even with the upgraded ERP, the client application would have problems with the upgraded desktops. This resulted in some alterations to the concurrently running desktop upgrade project.

As I performed the normal duties of the individuals that I interviewed in my upgraded sandbox, I started to come to some solid, but unfortunate findings. Specifically the Sales Analysis Module was missing. Several years back the makers of the ERP had decided to allow clients to upgrade the application and still utilize the little known database engine. However if a client chose this path, they would loose certain functionality that had already been moved to a MSSQL engine. They called it; “Planned Functionality”. The concept was to allow clients that utilized the ERP for manufacturing only, to continue. While other clients that leveraged more of the system to move forward. Strange but true, this was their line of thinking.

Since a key aspect of the system would become out of the reach for this small manufacturer, the decision - the upgrade failed. Not wanting to risk loosing the ability to gain ground in sales or any other possible area, due to the ERP Vendor’s “Planned Functionality”, the main goals of the project were determined unreachable. However, I was able to work with the executive team to create a long-term path that would remove this obstacle, but provide some additional stability. They will migrate to a hosted ERP solution later next year. Not only will this save them money and stress on internal IT support, but did actually affect the cost of the project. Because the plan now is to go to a remotely hosted application, quick changes to the desktop upgrade project allowed for some additional cost savings.

Therefore, my small manufacturing company will carry forward until the next budget cycle as is. The project was marked completed, but unsuccessful. Projects may have solid and value added goals, however knowing the outcome before the project starts is rarely known.

Notice: posts will have the highlights of projects that I have been apart of or have managed. Some of these examples have been fictionalized to make certain points. The examples are not a complete rendering of all the events of any project, example or actual event. Nor are they intended to be a factual accounting of events in a project, example or actual event. The examples of projects are to inspire and provoke thought on how anyone of us would have handled the situation. My intention is to highlight those "moments" where doing things one way or another might have changed the end of the story. This is done in an open and learning format where I hope we can all continue to learn together.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Sailing Ships

Introverts are rested and energized by solitude, and are very effective in solitary pursuits. An introvert is a person who prefers to process thoughts internally. Introverts tend to think before they speak. The word is also used informally to refer to somebody who prefers solitary activities to social ones, which is more of a behavioral than cognitive definition. Introverts tend to be seen as quiet and reserved, which is often confused with a lack of confidence by louder, more extroverted people. They often perform well in analytical roles that require intelligence or logic, but place less emphasis on social interactions and “people skills”. Introverts are usually a minority in the general population, and they can often be sidelined by culture or society, which in many cases favors the more common extroverted style of behavior.

Perception and judgment are the keys that invoke others not to believe that introverts can be leaders. The perception of an individual taking time to answer a question or create an internal vision of a situation creates an impression that the individual can not make decisions. People are still equating leadership with the ability to make fast decision and stand-by them even if they are wrong. This truly is one aspect of leadership and is the shining example of extroverts in the spot light. They deserve it of course. People like former Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former President Jimmy Cater are true shining examples. Even after their time in the lime-light, after what ever crisis was over, they still continue as great extroverted leaders.

So how do we as introverts change, affect or get around these issues of perception and judgment. Basically we should not be worried about them. Concerned yes, they can affect our credibility. But for the most part, the act of leading or being a leader is not to be the one that sits in the center of the circle. You can be a leader and be apart of the circle just as affectively.

Leadership is not being the boss or the one in charge. Leadership simply is affecting the world around you in a way that is consistent with the way you and others believe the world should be. So why so much focus on personality types? Well as an introvert we like things in neat little categories just as much as the others. Supposedly it helps us manage our expectations and of others.

Sailing Ships

So let’s take a look at the top most Extraverts that exists; entrepreneurs and sales people. Some of the most powerful and influential people are one of these two categories. They bring change to our every day lives and in many ways improve things for everyone.

"I never perfected an invention that I did not think about in terms of the service it might give others... I find out what the world needs, then I proceed to invent."
- Thomas Edison

During the Dot.Com era we in the technology field tried many things internal to our organizations to make us unique. The concept was to create an environment that was very attractive to the limited number of technical professionals. Many programs were created inside companies to foster the “uniqueness” of the employee and how bringing together these “unique” people a new frontier could be established. Many of the programs were very successful, however a few back-fired in unexpected ways.

I had the opportunity to apart of such a Dot.Com. The executive staff was the true entrepreneurs of the organization, as you would expect. Everyone wore the many hats of internal management, external sales and developers of new ideas. Everyone had the opportunity to take their ideas, concepts and dreams to both customers and staff. Everyone had the opportunity to be their own leader in any fashion they could.

During a process of communication improvement within the company we each identified our Myers Briggs personality type. The concept was that with so much change as a constant within the organization, we needed to make sure we could at least talk to each other. On one office, a wall of communication was created where each person was listed under there personality type. We each learned the basics of our own personality type and of others we actively communicated with.

As expected, most of the organization fell into just a couple of the personally types. Specifically these types were ENFP and ENFJ. Now “The Inspirer” (or ENFP) are very enthusiastic and live in the world of possibilities. Like many entrepreneurs I have run across, the ENFP in the Dot.Com felt that the details of everyday business were seen as trivial drudgery. ENFP are great at getting people to rally and heading towards a common goal. They are very talkative and have a perception of what the future can hold that is very clear and distinct. This can lead to trouble. They relay on intuition that is judged to be accurate, but is flawed by not carrying through to the details.

ENFJ (or “The Giver”) are similar to ENFP with one major separation. While they similarly focus on the external parts of their world, ENFJ judge things against their own set of values. Wonderful people persons, they like to focus on how to make the world better for people. Their people skills are so keen that they could sell you almost anything. But they keep themselves personally closed in and only influence things using the strong personal set of values that they have. ENFJ never forcefully influence you where it would upset your own personal feelings, just a kind and guiding movement towards a set of values.

I myself fell into a personality types that was as far from the balance of the staff as possible. INFJ (also known as “The Protector”) represent only 1% of the population and utilize internal intuition. When dealing with things externally we use a sense of order and systematic approach. However, when we make decisions INFJ still rely on our internal intuition and many times are spontaneous in our decision making. We just internally know when something is right and have little reason to back the decision.
You could say that I spend a lot of time trying to define and examine systems. Everything operates and exists through some sort of system. I like to identify where those systems can be improved, however when I reach a conclusion for improvement I have little factual basis to back it up. This is because as an INFJ, I naturally use intuition to help me discover new possibilities. It makes me appear spontaneous and a little hap-hazard. However, I am usually right on the mark.
Now this can also backfire on me at times. Because I trust more in my intuition above everything, I can become stubborn. This comes out in either staying focused on the “Big” picture or immersing myself into the details. This happened once while at the Dot.Com. During a period close to the end of life for the company, I was noticing that there were not any new client projects coming up. I went to the COO and asked what the plan was. Now the typical response was that we (the company) would continue to thrive and always find new clients. My instincts were telling me that we needed more than just the company tag line and hope to get new clients.
So I pressed the COO. The more I pressed the more irritated he became. Soon I was visited by the VP of human resources. The complaint was that I was becoming discontented and contrary to the normal flow of the organization. Seems my pressing for some sort of business plan was not only annoying the COO, but several others on the executive team. The concern was that I was too deep in the details of others and not focusing on my own responsibilities. Now this argument would normally hold water, as I typically am only involved in the infrastructure of organizations.
However, in this organization I managed to create a revenue stream from the infrastructure. Leveraging the infrastructure, we were able to perform a small amount of charge back to clients. This allowed us to cover the costs of some operational costs and staff costs. So my inquiries about plans for the business future in my mind were justified.
Things continued to get worse as the original disagreement was lost and things started to become personal. We just ended up not liking each other. I was so bad that the COO and I stopped talking for two weeks. I knew this was not a good situation and something had to be done. I was waiting for the senior of us (the COO) to take a first step in correcting the situation, however it never came. My frustration slowly became anger and then I was indeed discontented. So I did the only thing that I could think of, I invited him to dinner.

Crew rowers have an expression when the ors of the boat are all in the water and everyone is paddling. Specifically this condition occurs when no one is paddling together, causing the boat to sway back and forth. It’s called; “’To Turtle The Boat”.
The dinner definitely started out that way. We started with some very small talk about sports and the weather. Then that uncomfortable silence crept in and we started to lose interest again in talking to each other. Then he asked me why I asked him to dinner. My response was that I acknowledged that we did like each other, but that somehow we still needed to work together. I guess my very frank and straight forward response was not something he was prepared for. He was after all, a people person. He was not very forthcoming on his own perspective, but did agree that we needed to make a conscience effort towards each other.
Thinking at the end of the dinner that I had indeed “flipped the boat” I went home thinking that all was lost. However, over time and with a little patience, we did indeed end up talking again and working very well together. The simple act of showing him that I too knew something was wrong, allowed both of us to learn and grow. I was able to lead both of us to a new level for our professional relationship.

Notice: posts will have the highlights of projects that I have been apart of or have managed. Some of these examples have been fictionalized to make certain points. The examples are not a complete rendering of all the events of any project, example or actual event. Nor are they intended to be a factual accounting of events in a project, example or actual event. The examples of projects are to inspire and provoke thought on how anyone of us would have handled the situation. My intention is to highlight those "moments" where doing things one way or another might have changed the end of the story. This is done in an open and learning format where I hope we can all continue to learn together.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Values that allow you to THRIVE

While at a start-up company we decided that the core of the organization would have an internal thought process to everything that we did. This guiding light feed throughout all areas of the organization and help drive the business choices of the organization. It was a very enlightening process of developing a set of core values for the organization. Having invested so much of myself in the organization, these company values very quickly became a way of expressing the personal values that I carry. I would like to share these with you.

When you are led by values, it doesn't cost your business,
it helps your business.
Jerry Greenfield (Co-Founder of Ben & Jerry's Homemade Holdings, Inc.)

thrive 1: to grow vigorously. : FLOURISH 2: to gain in wealth or possessions. : PROSPER : to progress toward or realize a goal. syn. see SUCCEED

TEAMWORK - I am committed to the spirit of open communications. I encourage cooperation and teamwork among all of us and believe that that can only be achieved by sharing all that we know, listening, and respecting each other's beliefs and individuality. I will admit mistakes, problems, and issues, freely , at the earliest opportunity, while they are still small.

HUMANITY - I believe in the importance of self and of family. Our success in our professional lives is balanced by success in our personal lives. Recognizing this allows us to be polite, helpful, accommodating, and considerate of the personal needs of others.

RESPONSIBILITY - I believe that we can only be successful by taking ownership of our goals. I encourage a commitment to our responsibilities and demonstrate initiative to accomplish the very best.

IMPROVEMENT - I believe in the development of ourselves as individuals. I look to be the best that I can be by learning from my experiences, searching for innovative and proven approaches to problems, investing in myselves and taking the long term view. I wish to leverage all that I've accomplished in the past as an individual, and as a professsional, and to regularly surpass it.

VIRTUE - I have been grounded on a code of conduct that is above reproach. I insist on being honest, ethical, and straightforward in all my dealings with others. I am proud of myself, my career, my coworkers and conduct myself accordingly.

ENJOYMENT - I believe that we do what we do because we enjoy it. I will only perform at my best if I feel great about what I am doing. I strive to seek the fun, the humor, and the enjoyment in everything I do.

There are many companies that have developed core values and many others that have tried. Please share your experience with the journey of development.

posts will have the highlights of projects that I have been apart of or have managed. Some of these examples have been fictionalized to make certain points. The examples are not a complete rendering of all the events of any project, example or actual event. Nor are they intended to be a factual accounting of events in a project, example or actual event. The examples of projects are to inspire and provoke thought on how anyone of us would have handled the situation. My intention is to highlight those "moments" where doing things one way or another might have changed the end of the story. This is done in an open and learning format where I hope we can all continue to learn together.

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Numbers Against the Business

Project management is full of statistical numbers. Enough to make an economist’s head spine. We use task tracking, risk analysis, P-Value, Binomial Distribution, Sigma, and Poisson Distribution, just to provide some simple explanation of how a project can affect a business. But to the average business individual, these numbers are almost meaningless.

"The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man."
George Bernard Shaw

While working at an organization I had to implement a large database application. This application was a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) application. The project started off normally with the Request for Information process and then the Request for Proposal process. Staff even had their input into the application selection. The project was well defined and had executive support.

Using standard project management methodology, a project summary was drawn up. It included the usual things; objectives, goals, risks and critical success factors. Then the other usual documentation of the high level project schedule, resource needs, communication structure and risk analysis. The project sponsor thought that the risk analysis was over kill documentation. This was due to the “expected level of commitment by all of the executive team” and that the project was to be successful. Strategic plans were being developed that would need the application as the main tool to accomplishing future goals.

The risk analysis was a mathematical calculation of the “what-ifs” of the organization. Due to the history of the organization having large scale projects failing in the past, I decided to include this brightly colored picture. Yes, I put red, yellow, green columns on each measured risk point. This allowed me to have the visual representation of; “Things are fine”, “Things are a little off”, (to the most important) “Hey we have a problem”.

As the project started to get going I needed to fully understand the extent of operational changes that the new system would create. I chose to perform a mapping of the existing business processes. I think this was the first sign that things were going to be difficult. When I started working with staff on how they did their jobs it was like I was demonstrating something totally new. Using a Visio and a note taker we mapped out down to the smallest detail what everyone in the organization did. It was eye opening for everyone and a great team building exercise. The down side was that this was the first time staff recognized that they actually did something repeatable.

Before, the general thought was that for most everything they did each day was always something new. They never thought of themselves as needed to repeat how they accomplished something last month and do it again. This created a sense of information overload for the staff. Then resistance to the idea of the new system, as their newly discovered information showed them they had a working set of processes. So a basic project management tool for creating a successful project turned into an addition to the risk assessment in a negative way.

Then a wave of attrition came through the organization. Now every organization goes through periods of roll-over staff and this is most of the time far outside the control of any single project. Now the new system project was not the only factor; political change in one office and a naturally high attrition rate in the industry also were in play. However, I found that several key individuals left as they could envision how the project of the new system would alter their jobs so much that they rejected being apart of the whole thing. The attrition reached over 20% of the organization and I went back to the risk analysis far more seriously.

The fist measurement of project failure was around 3%, and then moved to 7% to 10% when the business process mapping was completed. Once the attrition started, the risk of failure jumped and kept pace with the organizations attrition rate. I brought my analysis to the project sponsor and made it very clear that the rest of the executive team needed to know that things are looking very bad. The sponsor offered to reduce the scope dramatically in order to not just complete the project but have the scheduled roll-out done on time. The only way I thought that this could be accomplished is if we reduced the scope to 1/3 of the project.

So with a much reduced scope the project continued. We still had the same rollout in 4 months, but this time with a team that only comprised of areas of the organization not being affected by attrition. Problem averted, right? Well we found a kind on flaw in the application. Not really a flaw, more like, well, Vapor Ware.

“Vapor Ware” is that technical term for an application that is sold as existing and functioning, when in reality the vendor has to build it. Many portions of the application needed “custom configurations” in lieu of the typical “setup configurations” in most applications. This was the gold-calf for the vendor where each implementation requires billable “custom configuration” just to setup the application to function. No mention of this by the vendor, referred customers or the newly created users group.

Although the scope has now been reduced, the amount of work and tasks to be completed tripled. This basically washed out any chance of reducing the risk to the project. So we marched forward. As you have guessed; support for the project wavered; demand for change in project management and project sponsorship occurred; demand for financial compensation from the vendor ensued; the whole host of things that you don’t want to see happen to a project, including staff not involved in the project joining in with the poking fun jokes about the application.

So was the project successful? By the numbers, the reduced scope was implemented and the application is functional. By the numbers, the number of staff intended to use the application in the reduced scope is using the application. By the numbers, the budget ran over by twice the amount of the original scoped project. By the business, those using the application are slowly becoming satisfied with the application. By the business, no area of the organization is able to identify where their repeatable business processes are used in the system because they still do not believe they have “business processes”.

Is this a draw?

Notice: posts will have the highlights of projects that I have been apart of or have managed. Some of these examples have been fictionalized to make certain points. The examples are not a complete rendering of all the events of any project, example or actual event. Nor are they intended to be a factual accounting of events in a project, example or actual event. The examples of projects are to inspire and provoke thought on how anyone of us would have handled the situation. My intention is to highlight those "moments" where doing things one way or another might have changed the end of the story. This is done in an open and learning format where I hope we can all continue to learn together.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Influence – Ready or Not

It seems that from time to time every position has some level of influence that you need to exert. As a project manager, department head or even a staff member, there are times when you need to influence others decisions because of your expertise, skills or experience. Then there are the true positions of influence where the only activity that you can do is change based on how you get others to change.

“It's never too late to learn, but sometimes too early”
  • Charlie Brown in PEANUTS by Charles M. Schulz.

The first position I ever had of true influence was with a fortune 500 company that had only just started getting into leveraging the Internet. This was indeed years ago, so please don’t think they were late in leveraging the Internet. Actually, they were about right on time with their “dabbling” and have continued to expand into B2B and B2C ever since.

I had been in technology for over 10 years, mostly as a developer and system administrator. I had also a number of projects that I had managed successfully that I was proud about. I thought what followed was going to be the natural progression of my career. I was surprised later to learn that I had a lot more to learn about projects and management.

I was hired to introduce new technologies into one of 23 of the divisions of the organization. Things like electronic scanning and OCR for Accounts Payable. Great project and things worked out well, but that’s for another time. The project and my background enticed the CIO to move me to the corporate level fairly quickly. I was the only other technology person at the corporate level as all other Directors and Managers actually reported to their local Operations Managers or Vice Presidents.

The first couple of months I spent my time going from location to location and learning the technology level of each. Sending back my two pager reports to the CIO on what I found. After a while I determined that there was a simple project we could accomplish that would make “Internet Technology” as real thing to those that I was listening and learning from. All that was needed was an web-based employee directory.

So with a little approved expense at the corporate level (very little), I set out to build the companies first in-house website. The Intranet was born within the company and this allowed me to have a live dog-and-pony” show for the road. It caught on very well and one day while visiting the corporate office I had a conversation with the Vice President of Marketing. The conversation was about the customers of the company and how the information about those customers could be tapped to generate new interest in the company. Having been to almost all of the individual divisions by then, I had learned that many had the basic information that the Vice President was looking for, but each division was its own island of knowledge. Not only were they technologically separated, but also very territorial about their information. I left things very negative with the VP as we could not get past some of these overreaching issues.

I really wish I had paid more attention to that conversation now that I look in hindsight. If I had it would have prepared me for what came next. Several months later on a late Friday as I arrived at my office from Logan airport (on the way home), the CIO called asking me to arrive in Chicago the following Monday. I said I would be there and asked was there anything that I need to prepare. ‘No, everything will be there when you arrive.”

I arrived bright and early on the red-eye in the Chicago office and was directed to a large conference room. As I walked in, there sitting was the 23 IT managers, their respective Plant Operations Managers/VPs, a few engineers that I knew in the organization, sales/engineers representatives from CISCO and Microsoft. I thought I was going to be treated to a relaxing day of product demonstrations and discussions on future ideas. Now I wish I had the extra 10 years of experience under my belt before I sat down in that room.

As the CIO welcomed everyone I thought that my day was indeed going to be just as I thought. Right after he said; “good morning” he jumped past the typical round-robin of introductions.

“Today we are going to determine how to migrate all our North America technology support centers into 3 main data centers.”

Dead silence in the room.

“Here you go Bill”….and he walked out of the room.

After the initial shock dimmed a little, I stood up and too a deep breath. Walked to the center of the room and looked directly at my old boss, the IT Manager of the plant I was based out of. I could see the visible signs of shock on his face and really knew this might not go well. The room started to fill with, as you would expect, with conversations about how ridicules this idea was and how much just thinking about it was going to upset plants ability to produce product. There were even the starts of shouting matches over which locations were going to be the new data centers.

Now I had at that time never had a position of politics. I never even entertained the idea that I would need such skills. I came from simple project management where most of the politics were monitored and managed by project sponsors. I was in over my head and there was no life ring in sight. So I did the only thing that I could think of, I ask a simple question.

Now over time I have attended many leadership training course, project management courses and management courses. The simple question that I asked I have found out was the only question that I could have asked and was actually the right questions. When the movie Apollo 13 came out, I learned that the question was the one that helped save not only the lives of the astronauts but also the whole space program.

“Does anyone have any ideas?”

That was it. Nothing like; “So who wants to go first?” Or “Who thinks this is not possible?” Not even the one question I found out was on everyone’s mind; “Who thinks that man is crazy?” That’s all I kept asking. When ever we came to an impasse or things started to get a little heated, I just interject with; “Let’s hear more ideas.”

It was long and hard, but a plan was created. I spent the next couple of weeks working with finance people and we figured out that the plan would save over a million dollars. We got the CIO’s approval and went to work. Indeed thanks to the cooperation and skilled people within the company the project was a success. It was those people that made the project successful. It felt like I was just along for the ride. Others became project managers of specific aspects and reported back only to their local IT Managers. There was no central reporting setup, so no high-level costs were developed and no projected savings documented.

I thought that was going to be the end of my career at the company. During the whole project I felt that I really did not do anything. Just sat around in meetings, listening to conversations and ideas; then every once in a while kick in my simple question. I went through six months of just asking people for their ideas and sharing them with others. I had no idea that was what the job was. I thought I was just wasting everyone’s time and sooner or later the CIO would get rid of me for wasting company’s time.

Shortly after that meeting I had several other run-ins like it with the CIO. I was sent to a location to redo all the telecommunications on the drop of a hat. I was sent to Microsoft to work out software and support agreements without first working with the 20+ IT managers on what was needed. As time wore on, I wore out. At the time I felt I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Now I know that was wrong and I was in the right place at the right time.

Today, I could really enjoy that kind of position. Having much more understanding of how to communicate with others and stem new ideas from people would make me even more affective. Having asked just the right question might have been luck or my simple “Yankee” background did have positive results. I still will and have continued to ask the simple question over and over, but now I can carry things even further and to new heights because I am not so afraid to ask the question:

“Does anyone have any ideas?”

Notice: posts will have the highlights of projects that I have been apart of or have managed. Some of these examples have been fictionalized to make certain points. The examples are not a complete rendering of all the events of any project, example or actual event. Nor are they intended to be a factual accounting of events in a project, example or actual event. The examples of projects are to inspire and provoke thought on how anyone of us would have handled the situation. My intention is to highlight those "moments" where doing things one way or another might have changed the end of the story. This is done in an open and learning format where I hope we can all continue to learn together.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Welcome to My Blog

First I thought I should introduce myself. I have been growing in the technology industry and creating business successes for each employer for over 15 years. I have a generalist approach to technology with a firmly established hands-on ability with Microsoft technology. I use cutting edge technology to solve business issues economically and create thriving business environments. My background is founded in financial business processes and software development.

I will be using this blog to express some of my experiences in helpful terms that others might be able to learn the lessons that I have. Some posts will have the highlights of projects that I have been apart of or have managed. Some of these examples have been fictionalized to make certain points. The examples are not a complete rendering of all the events of any project, example or actual event. Nor are they intended to be a factual accounting of events in a project, example or actual event.

The examples of projects are to inspire and provoke thought on how anyone of us would have handled the situation. My intention is to highlight those "moments" where doing things one way or another might have changed the end of the story. This is done in an open and learning format where I hope we can all continue to learn together.

Continuous learning is the corner stone for any technologist. So please allow me to not only learn from what I have experienced, but also from your experiences.