Laziness or Process Improvement?

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You have to feel sorry for my lovely wife.

It could be argued that when I do something ‘non house-trained’ and I try to legitimize it with business consultant speak. This is a bit like when at work, you don’t do something (or do it badly) and you add business consultant speak flim flam around that subject to make your actions seem deliberate.  Before any previous or future clients develop a frenzied outrage – remember that we all do it.

With this in mind, I present the following:

‘The open kitchen drawer. Process improvement or laziness? Discuss’. Note: this picture is not our kitchen.

Open  Drawers

Surely you can see that If I have a drawer with things I need regularly, like cutlery; then it makes sense to keep it handily available (AKA open). Probably over my lifetime, this will save me 1 or 2 minutes of activity.  That’s an improvement that is.

Feedback Feedback

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Go read about Zara or their parent company Inditex. Go On. I’d not heard about their particular business model until I read an insightful article in the Financial Times last Thursday: “A better business model”.

Clothes being designed

To paraphrase the good bits of the model: Inditex ensure that constant feedback from customers in stores gets fed back to designers in HQ who tweak existing designs and dream up completely new ones. Using this feedback, they predict needs and those clothes in need are back in store sometimes within two weeks of being designed. They do this by ensuring all relevant departments are mostly conveniently located on HQ campus in Spain as well as ensuring the whole process is fast and efficient. I won’t poorly paraphrase their business model any further here, but the feature of gaining and responding feedback intrigued me. Can we apply this to how an IT department gains feedback from the business and responds to needs?

Systems are conceived, designed and built according to a variety of ‘methodologies’ some of which involve rapid prototyping and play-back with users. Most involve heavy business interaction at system requirements gathering phase. I’ll leave this particular area alone.

I’m talking about the business-as-usual bit between system designs and implementation. Do we listen to our users? Do we gather feedback? I guess some organisations may do this, and may be good at it, but most clients I’ve worked with have only a vague far off notion of understanding new user needs and behaviours. It’s because it’s difficult to hear that a new system has flaws, or doesn’t quite meet the needs of its users. It’s because new stuff requires new money and new effort and Top Dogs don’t understand that. “I just paid for one, go away” they’d say.

I wonder why we don’t do more to understand needs. Systems could be built with usage tracking and ‘screen click’ tracking. How are folks using the system? We could build qualitative and quantitative feedback regularly into our interactions. I’m talking about MORE than the yearly staff survey. I’m talking about instilling a culture of giving feedback. If we can make our business users WANT to give feedback regularly, and our key project stakeholder want to go get it, we can do something with it. Fact is they don’t.

Inditex’s secret is that they have both customers who give and staff who regularly gather and feedback the nuggets of goodness, as well as processes to do something with it. That’s what a good back office department should get good at.

Allotments as business culture?

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It’s fair to say I spend a lot of time writing about either my work OR about allotments. Today I’m converging the two. We all need a few more silly work-life examples and metaphors don’t we?!

In my allotment, due to a lack of time and mostly a lack of effort, I tend to be a bit ‘laissez-faire’ when it comes to weeds, and I plant straight into the ground. My neighbour, for their own reasons has seemingly deconstructed Noah’s Arc in and around her plot to make many raised beds. They’ve also added a membrane and bark chippings around paths. Good luck trying to deconstruct THAT lot.

Lots of Wood

A close-by plot has meticulous rows of ‘stuff’ (I don’t know what), tied with neat bits of string, and strange plastic picket fencing. Yet another has potato rows in the usual mounds which look like an Earth Mr Whippy and have been sculpted precisely. My potato rows by contrast have grass in, glass in, stones and weeds. This is partly to test my Dads assertion that potatoes will grow in/through anything (apart from frost). We’ll see.

Wee-little-fences

The same raised-bed neighbour is a regular little Costa (or betting shop) and has sprung up with several other plots in and around her first. She’s expanded.

Veritable Maze of beds

As I was breaking my back weeding the other day, I realised that an allotments productivity is not harmed by having such varied ways of operating. Things grow, things get eaten. What’s more the variance of that produce is high, with different types of potatoes, courgettes, pumpkins, fruit and so on, on each plot. The culture of people working on their allotments is one of individualism but of a team and communal spirit. It’s almost as if by allowing each plot owner to hone and grow in their own way, the culture of the whole remains distinct and intact.

Meticulous_canes

I’ll take this thought with me to work – that an organisations culture does not have to be homogeneous. Separate parts can co-exist distinctly. What counts is a strong common goal. I have worked at an organisation facing calls to identify its culture and character, then homogenise all parts. It is a very disparate organisation, grown through acquisition (mostly). The ‘Allotment Method’ dictates that you find a high level common goal (which is genuinely present) and allow variability and difference whilst promoting the common goal. As it happens, the problem is perceived as so vacuous and so difficult that it ain’t been touched yet.

It’s nice to know allotments have a place in the world of business. As a bonus, see this rather attractive shed:

lovely_shed

Consultant? Fear the comfort zone

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Recently, I’ve been thinking through a phenomenon of ‘best practice’ and how we use that phrase in describing what we do. It seems especially prevalent in IT system design. Clients are quick to disregard their own way of working, asking instead for the ‘industry leading best practice’.  They want to know how everyone else does things. Then copy it*

I worry about this. Firstly, most consultants, who aren’t really thinking properly, will probably hear ‘best practice’ and think ‘what I’ve done in the past’.  For system-designy-type consultants, they’ll hear “what I specify and design most often”. Worse than that, they might hear “What I did last”.

We all have a tendency to Comfort Zoneoverestimate what we’ve done in the past, and consider that it works well. Even if we don’t call it best practice, we all consider what we’ve done to be more effective than it is. It’s called the ‘comfort zone’ cognitive bias.

(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_cognitive_biases)

As a consultant, I try as hard as I can to keep everything I’ve ever done before within a realistic context.  I need to make sure that what I’m thinking of doing for my current client suits THEM, not someone I used to work with. Actually, when It comes to organisational change management, each client situation is vastly different, because each client’s culture, working practices and the personalities are all different.  Part of what we do is ‘getting’ these things and creating a set of actions an interventions that are appropriate.

* (PS), I personally think that by following ‘best practice’ as defined by someone else, or worse, by an ERP implementation company; you’ll end up LIKE that someone else. To work efficiently, define your own culture and beat the opposition: find your own way.  If you’re thinking that this seems to bring in to question what we consultants do, then in part you’re right, but in part you’re wrong. What we do well is understand these things and can bring them to the table, whilst helping organisations transform in their own way, at their own pace.

Thinking on work-society

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If we think about the rights, allowances or benefits that an employee gets through his or her employment, is there value in an organisation thinking about ‘the whole’ rather than ‘the employee’? Would employees gain (in the long run)?

At a client we’re working with, where (annual) leave requests are dealt with through a paper process a bit of inter-colleague banter got me thinking – what if, as a team-lead, I had a set number of days from which all my team could take leave? What if I left it for the team to decide the exact division of their entitlements and benefits? At first glance you’ll be thinking : “it’ll never work”. People are inherently selfish, and work is a drag – I NEED my benefits and holidays to keep me sane.

Sure. I get that. But consider a team where real life happens. Some years, some of may be moving house, getting married, going travelling around the world, doing some voluntary work, suffering bereavements, giving birth.  Real life means that some years we need a bit of slack, perhaps to concentrate on non work matters. Would our work-society function if we could set out own allowances for things?  If I accept what people are doing, will I be more willing to work hard to cover for my colleagues?

I can see problems with this of course. I do wonder if it hints towards a bigger point – that the structure of society we have in the workplace could be adapted, tweaked or revised. Our practice of work-for-reward belittles the strands of existing within a society – and perhaps our rewards could be decoupled from ‘work’ and simply made to mean reward for participating in a ‘work-society’.

Oh wait, I just invented Communism. No hang on, I still get paid, phew.. no revolution and beards here.

 

The Problem with ‘Benefits’

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My current role is a ‘Benefits Lead’ for a Transformation Programme.
[This statement alone is enough to show that this post is work related and has nothing to do with Badgers or Allotments or ‘gear grinding moanings of daily life’]

In a nutshell, the role is there to manage the portfolio of mostly financial ‘benefits’ that the programme says will be achieved if we successfully do all that we say we will. Not unlike most business related themes, it does have its problems and herewith are my thoughts on ‘managing benefits’ for a transformation and IT programme:

 

  1. It’s a throwaway term. To the uninitiated, and even the initiated, ‘benefits’ should be thrown liberally about into any sentence to do with the transformation. “But what are benefits?” Others like to add ‘realisation’ to it, to make it sound even more posh. “We link x,y,z to benefits realistion”… I’m not bemoaning a lack of understanding, but I am bemoaning that ‘benefit’ has a day to day meaning, as well as the context of tracking the measurable positive and negative ‘balance sheet’ of the ‘why are we bothering bit’. Don’t mix the two or create a weird hybrid thing.
  2. It’s hijacked. The whole area is dangerously close to consultant flim-flam, but it’s regularly hijacked by folks who either put too much detail into proceedings, or those who try to pin every existential hope onto it. A sound concept can be ruined by trying to create a reference model involving 1000, 1000 tabbed spreadsheets. Likewise ruined through a complex ‘diagram’ that seeks to explain on one page of A4 how an organisation is in fact a simplistic join-up-the-dots affair. After all, if you can’t explain complex things with one diagram with boxes and stuff, what kind of transformation consultant are you?
  3. It’s part of a whole. If you want to actually ‘see’ benefits (make some positive gain), then you’ll need to get the organisational change management effort right. You’ll need to manage any technology implementation right. Simple really – but if that isn’t effective as it could be, then this will have an effect on the money you think you’re going to save or make. It’s self-evident really. Coupled with (4) below, a programme should easily consider Change Management initiatives well beyond ‘go live’. This isn’t usually done, or isn’t usually done well.
  4. Think Longer term. Any financial benefits are likely to be one year and five year numbers. That is, the figures related to savings / revenue generated after 1 year, then extrapolated to five. On our programme, we’re monitoring for 9 months after implementation, and calculating the trend thereafter. No matter how long these things are – they typically last a fair while after any kind of Go Live. You’ll need to reassess your timelines when looking to trend analyse the benefit banking and ensure that other parts of the programme are long term enough.
  5. Give it teeth. It’s very easy to draw up a benefit that talks about efficiencies or ‘time reduced’ – but what does that mean? Will a business make any moula by simply making a process better/quicker? Not on its own it won’t.

There we have it. I’m no expert (on anything), but thoughts on what I’m doing none-the-less.

Bad Weather at work – STOP REPLYING TO ALL

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We got a spot of inclement weather at work yesterday. We had an ‘Email Storm’ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Email_storm

(I just noticed someone has added the specific example to the wikipedia page for my employer. Before you ask, it was NOT me).

It’s a glorious glimpse into modern work society, and provides an insight into the folks who respond. As is pointed out on the page, the list was sent to some 47k people.  More than 500 individuals responded, before I think IT stopped the mail at server.

If you’ve never experienced this, you need to know only one thing: when you get it, don’t take any action. Don’t even tell people to take no action. Don’t tell people to ‘stop replying to all’… by replying to all….

A personal favourite is the ‘supremely important people’ who respond saying “I’m too busy doing real work to read all these emails”. Also a fond favourite are the guys who show their selfish side, by immediately responding: “take me off this list”. or respond with “I have nothing to do with this”.  As if that can happen by sending to all 47k people.

Lastly, the group of people who feel a picture, large text or something else ‘funny’ is the way to go. I wonder how much this email mistake cost the company? It is funny though, but really want to show your boss that you’re responding personally to SPAM emails?

Here, for you pleasure (stop reading now if bored), are some of the highlights…

  • +3. +2 +1? Countdown to WHAT exactly? (I counted someone doing a +5 before THAT one stopped)
  • “PLEASE STOP THIS NOW” (presumably shouted in pain)
  • Por favor, sacadme de esta cadena de correos, me colapsan el trabajo.Un saludo. The obvious irony of responding to all in a foreign language lost on this particular dude.. OR WAS IT? I do like the ‘Colapsan el trabajo’ bit. Implies collapsing at work due to email load.
  • Someone responded with “Pls stop reply to all” and included The Pope. Disciplinary for sending offensive religious images? (not saying it is, but it COULD be thought such by some):

reply1

  • Someone else shouted IN BIG RED TEXT: PLEASE STOP REPLYING…
  • Another essentially swore at us with a ‘WTF’? I like that acronym.. not sure about sending it at work though?
  • Another guy sent a small essay about how to block the email and such like. Yawn.
  • Another celebrated the social event. Good for them: “That is the biggest social event I ever participate within Capgemini. Good opportunity to meet colleagues from different part of organization.”
  • Yet another showed good old British anger by adding “For crying out loud” which in a manner of speaking, he was.
  • Lastly,  “The king of Sweden demands this madness stop RIGHT NOW !”. Which, to my mind, SHOULD have stopped it all. Bizarrely sent around with the King riding an Elk.

For reference, if I was to respond, I’d have gone with the picture of two stick men having doggy-style sex…which some random dude, at a previous employer, actually did.

See the carousel for hastily researched photos, whacked into the email trail:

Slave labour makes allotmenteering easy

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This week is a week away from work, but not a week away from HARD work. A long diarised holiday has seen my parents (experienced gardeners) visit from North Wales.  Having ‘gone on’ at Mum for several weeks, they were ‘enthusiastically’ helping me on the allotment this afternoon! 🙂

First, we got a bonfire going (before it becomes banned all summer), and burnt off the small mound of blackberry roots, sticks, bits of tree, nettles and other burnable wood based stuff. The ash (I’m told) will do good things around base of fruit trees.

Fire in a dustbin

Fire

Next, Dad reminded me how plant potatoes, whilst Mum weeded, dug up turf.  Keeping the fire fed all afternoon, we managed to plant out the raspberry bushes and the red currant bush, and generally tidy up the plot. More to follow tomorrow. Generally a great spring afternoon to spend doing what previous generations have done.

Smalltalkometer

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In the interest of nothing in particular, I’ve been considering for a while a scale for the rating of small talk ability. For your reading pleasure, and future use: It is here presented.

Image of small talking humans

Small Talk

Note: If you happen to be 1-4 on the scale below, it’s probably best not to mention this scale to others. If you’re 8-10, go ahead.

Note 2: If you’re wondering ‘why’ or ‘WTF’? It’s because I was reminded of a conversation at uni, many years ago, where someone (a 2) asked me “how do you small talk?” I don’t have THAT answer yet.

  1. out of 10.  Useless: The most basic of conversations confuse and dismay. An example might be a chronic inability to respond to a shop keepers pleasantries when purchasing one or two items. Prompting may be ignored.
  2. out of 10. Mostly Useless: The need for a superficial interchange communication is recognised, but usually an inappropriate response is given, for example over zealous laughing or a ‘yeah’ when a ‘no’ is required.
  3. out of 10. Basic grasp of weather: An ability to talk about the weather we’re having, but only a one or two clausal interchange is possible. “ooh, horridly wet at the moment” (says the other person). “Indeed it is drenched. Good-day to you sir”.
  4. out of 10. Normalish.  An interchange with a shop keeper lasting a few minutes is possible. Basic consideration may be given to state of weather. Extrapolation of trends and reference to previous similar spells may be possible.
  5. out of 10. Normal. This person will be able to sit comfortably with someone such as a Neighbour (where normal relations are required), and converse about typical subjects. Will gain a sense of unease after a certain point, but will conduct a conversation with required politeness and etiquette. Recognising the unease, a 5 out of 10 may seek to avoid small talk interchange, by avoiding neighbours or other acquaintances.
  6. out of 10. Comfortable. Small talk can be maintained for a prolonged period of time.  May be able to cope with 2 or several individuals, covering typical subjects.  Brief silences may ensue between sporadic showers of conversation.
  7. out of 10. Traverser:  At this point, the person may be able to move the conversation to new topics. They may segway between nuggets of small talk gold and set up other more experienced small talkers for moments of comedy. In groups, the traverser may appear superficial and interested only in portraying their own opinion. A dangerous small talker and may be portrayed negatively. They are only learning and on the path to greatness.
  8. out of 10. Highly competent: A  responsive small talker, capable of several topics over the duration of a conversation. Capable of small group small talk but will stall awkwardly faced with a difficult group dynamic. Is likely to intuitively understand when to bring the conversation around though, but may lack experience to do so.
  9. out of 10. Expertly Competent. Able to talk indefinitely about most typical small talk subject.  May be able to bring latest news into the discussion which may stray into controversial topics.  Will often inject humorous asides whilst keeping the conversation light and brisk. Able to cope with group small talks an act as ‘chair’ of such conversations. Will recover from having any 1-5s in the group, but may still suffer a few difficult moments.
  10. out of 10. Expertly Expert. Able to accomplish all of (9), whilst covering more ‘in depth’ subjects but still with a breezy indifference. Is able to talk about genocide, religion, politics or mention the Nazis or Adolf Hitler and still remain affable.  Able to steer other lesser able small-talkers to new topics and keep the group happy with light and easy conversation.

So there you have it. I expect to be a guest on BBC Breakfast as an ‘expert’ to help rate people in no time at all. Hey, I’m not saying I’m good at it, I just developed the scale. Like Beaufort for wind (weather)….Which has been terrible in Wales recently.

See what I did there?