Why Aren’t Our Networks Staying Up?

images (41)Does anyone besides me remember the phone system? You could be just about anywhere in the world at any time and you could pick up a phone, call someone, and your call would go right through. The Plain Old Telephone System (POTS) just worked. Now nothing is ever perfect and the POTS wasn’t perfect either, but it was 99.999% perfect which meant that it only didn’t work for about 5 minutes per year. Clearly, despite the importance of information technology, the networks that we’re designing and building today don’t work anywhere this reliably. Why not?

Network Outages Seem To Be A Part Of Life

Back in the day, when the phone network was “the network”, an outage was a big deal. It got stories written about it in papers and people talked about it on TV. The reason that it was such a big deal was because it didn’t happen very often. Things have certainly changed. In the first half of 2015 alone the NYSE halted trading because of a technical glitch and United Airlines had to ground all of their airlines because of problems with a program that scheduled pilots.

I think that there are a few things that have probably lead us to where we find ourselves today. First off, as any person with the CIO job can tell you, we have a lot more networks that we are using to run things. In any given company there are the networks that deal with creating the products and services that the company sells and then there are the networks that are used to actually run the company. Just to make things a little bit more difficult, each of these networks is now more complex. They have more boxes and software and other components that make them up.

One of the other reasons that network outages seem to occur more frequently these days is simply because CIOs don’t staff their IT departments to deal with outages like the phone company used to. For regulatory reasons, the phone company was under the gun when they had a network outage. They needed to fix it fast. This meant that they hired and trained an army of skilled technicians who would spring into action any time there was a network outage. People in the CIO position don’t do this today and so our outages tend to last much longer.

It’s All About Managing Change

As a CIO you would prefer that your corporate networks not experience any downtime. However, of course, this will never be possible. What we need to do is to take some time and try to get to the root cause of just exactly why we and our peers are seeing so many high profile network outages.

I sorta hate to say this, but the answer to this question is actually pretty obvious. The reason that so many of us CIOs have been experiencing network outages is because of the high rate of change that is occurring within our networks. Just when we get our network stable and configured the way that it has to be in order to work with and for our company, along comes yet another change. The change can be either hardware or software but because it changes our network into a partially upgraded beast for a while, bad things can easily happen.

As a CIO we can’t always prevent outages from happening. However, what we can do is to take steps to minimize the probability that they will occur. What we need to do within our IT departments is to make sure that we are using solid well-documented and automated processes as much as possible in order to test, build, upgrade and configure our networks. It’s only by doing this that we’ll start to drive some of human error out of these processes and reduce the possibility of having yet another network outage.

What All Of This Means For You

I believe that most of us can remember a time when there were things that just seemed to always work. Now we find ourselves living in an age where a computer failure seems to take down the NYSE every month or so, Internet providers experience massive outages, etc. Why do today’s modern networks seem to work so much worse than the phone network of yesterday?

It turns out that there are a lot of different reasons that are all contributing to our current lack of network reliability. Many firms prefer to invest in other things until they experience an infrastructure problem. In the past firms maintained army’s of technicians to fix issues, today’s lean organizations can take much longer to clear errors. Today’s networks are more complex, carry more data, and change more rapidly than ever before. The result is that we’ll keep seeing more network outages.

As CIOs we need to understand the situation that we find ourselves in. Our IT departments have created some wonderfully functional networks that because of the great deal of change that is always going on in IT may at times experience outages. What we need to do is to take the time to develop contingency plans that determine what action we’ll take when, not if, our networks go down. Being ready for bad things is what being a CIO is all about.

 

5 Steps To Better Relationships With Your Subordinates

images (40)How can you make your business team more productive? Today’s employees aren’t drones stuck in cubicles like a Dilbert cartoon. Your subordinates live in a social media world and expect personal engagement. Here are 5 ways to better relationships with your subordinates:

Know Yourself

The first step is to connect more deeply with your inner self and to use that self-realization as the basis for your leadership. Connecting to your callings, and learning to love and trust your intuition gives you confidence. When you act from fear and doubt, you won’t motivate anyone else to support organizational change; however, when you are sure of yourself, you inspire your subordinates to trust you.

Know Your Subordinates

Research shows that the most effective leaders have a high emotional intelligence, meaning they understand people and can read their thoughts and feelings. One way to become better at emotional intuition is to get to know your subordinates. Spend time with them and find out about their families, their interests outside of work, and their particular fears, strengths, and dreams. As you build personal relationships with subordinates they will develop trust in you and will be willing to trust your leadership even when it requires extra perseverance and dedication to a project.

Pay Attention to Emotional Needs

How someone feels about the ups and downs of a project or assignment can greatly affect how hard they will work to overcome problems. Asking employees about their feelings about their work can help. Allowing them to safely express how they feel can help you recognize aspects of a business project that cause stress on your subordinates and ways that you as a leader can help to reassure them and keep them motivated and on the right track.

Be Positive and Confident

The people under you want to know that the goals you set are achievable and important. You set the tone for how they feel about their work. When you present your goals confidently, you set a positive tone for meetings and personal dealings with employees.

Keep Your Cool

Inevitably, problems will arise in your business plans and employees will deal with stress and anger at each other and at whoever is in charge. Modeling the behavior you want from your employees is important. Keeping your cool and remaining in control of the situation helps your subordinates have confidence in your leadership and goals and can prevent the members of the project from getting off track.

In these days of continual change in business through globalization, social media feedback and integration, business leaders need more than talent and good ideas, they need to have the emotional intelligence that helps them have good relationships with subordinates so that goals can be accomplished.

 

Aligning KPIs With the Program Logic Model

images (38)Some governments and other organisations not driven by profit use versions of program logic or outcomes models. But just because they use a logic or outcome model, does not mean they automatically get great KPIs.

Program logic models visually map the cause-effect relationships that exist between the inputs, activities, outputs, and outcomes produced by their programs or projects, for specific stakeholders.

Program Logic models also provide a framework for assessing the impact achieved by the organisation’s application of resources to its programs. These models are intended for organisations whose impact is social change, such as reducing health problems from smoking, reducing water consumption in times of drought, increasing use of sunscreen to minimise the incidence of skin cancer, or reducing homelessness.

The input-activity-output-outcome thinking that program logic frameworks encourage is very helpful in keeping performance measures focused on what matters, and I would suggest this thinking is useful beyond just social change organisations.

But most of the program logic literature focuses on how to build a Program Logic model, not on the nitty-gritty steps to find and implement appropriate performance measures to evidence the progress and impact at each stage in the cause-effect flow from inputs to outcomes.

Performance measurement methodologies, like PuMP, can help us design measures for anything, as long as we can articulate the results we want to measure, clearly and specifically. For the Program Logic Model, results are articulated at each stage in the cause-effect chain, from inputs to outcomes.

So once we have built our Program Logic Model, we can use a measurement methodology to create meaningful measures for it. Take this example of a Program Logic Model for reducing water consumption in a community:

Outcomes

Water is saved.

Water Consumption per Capita

Outputs

Water-saver tips are implemented

% Community Adopting Water Saver Tips

Activities

Tips on how to save water.

Community consultation on water usage and saving.

% Community Downloads of Water Saver Tips

# Participants by Community Segment

Average Participant Support For Water Saver Tips

Inputs

Staff time.

Budget.

Total FTE Hours

Total Spend

So, a good measurement methodology can dovetail into any kind of outcomes model – be it for a program, a service, a project, a business process, a product, or a strategy – at the point where that model articulates the results that matter.

DISCUSSION:
Do you use some kind of outcomes or logic model in your organisation? How have you handled the measurement of it?

3 Steps to Create Employee Accountability

images (39)Wouldn’t it be great if all of your employees do what they are supposed to do, and more? Employees have different levels of ‘accountability’ skills and in managing employees; you need to help them maximize this strength. Some people have it and with minimum direction seem to execute all that is required of them. Others get distracted, and at the end of the day, they were busy, but not necessarily productive.

Accountability is about taking responsibility and following through to completion on your commitments. In order to effectively manage employees, you need to know how to keep them accountable.

As a manager, you are responsible for keeping employees accountable and the employees are responsible for getting the work done.

How can you help build your employee’s “accountability muscles?”

Clear Around Priorities

I’ve heard from many employees how management keeps changing directions. They complain that there are too many projects going on at the same time. Where are you with department or company objectives? Are you clear on the company goals and have you communicated those goals to your employees?

In managing employees, this is your first priority? You will get the most from your employees when you are clear about the goals and how each of your team members plays in the success of the department or company. Take the time to create your master plan and share this with everyone on your team.

Present the information in different formats:

  • Department meeting
  • Share the plan documents
  • Follow up emails
  • 1:1 meeting with each of your team members

Clarity around priorities helps you and your employees.

Set Clear Expectations

Now that you have created your master plan and have communicated your plan to each member of your team, it’s time to work with your individual employees.

What type of manager are you? Do you micromanage your employees, take a hands-off approach with them, or do you set clear goals and expectations and then let them deliver? Too many managers micromanage or overreact and have a ‘hands off’ approach. Both styles don’t build ‘accountability’ within your organization.

You focus is to build a balance between setting goals, creating performance expectations, and creating follow-up meetings to ensure accountability.

It’s important for you to be clear about the consequences for non-performance. Have in place an intervention process that will help you support your employees. Be diligent in following up with employee’s performance levels.

If you provide coaching and counseling and the employee is still not performing, you need to take quick action for yourself, the employee and the rest of the team. Learn more about handling low performance or negative attitudes that are not productive for the wellbeing of your team.

Be consistent in handling all of your team members. You employees will respond favorably when a manager is fair and respectful to all.

Be Accountable Yourself

The most powerful impact on your employee’s performance is the strength of your ‘accountability muscles.’ Do you follow through on what you say you will do? Are you available to listen to your staff? Your team will follow you, no matter what. They will emulate your behavior and actions. This is a perfect time for you to create your own 3-step process: what are your priorities in managing employees, what expectations do you have for yourself, and evaluate yourself on how strong you are in being accountable. Be known as a strong ‘accountability manager’ and you team will respond accordingly.

Focus your attention on the 3 priorities in developing ‘accountability muscles’ within your team – clear around priorities, set clear expectations and be accountable yourself. If ‘accountability’ is not becoming stronger with every team member, start back at priority number 1 – clear around priorities. Then go through each step until you have mastered your ability to be a strong ‘accountability manager.’

My main focus is to help managers handle the day-to-day issues that surface in interacting and building strong working relationships with each of their team members.

Emerging Trends in Project Management

images (36)We have seen 2015 to be a year of rise of the Agile and Scrum. We saw increase in maturity of Project Management among the IT Companies. PMI started to focus on Benefits Realization and Leadership skills for Project Managers.

We have also seen that there are no pure Agile projects in a organization and neither do we see organizations following agile in total. People have mixed projects in the organization and need for governance did not go away and more and more organizations following agile is also feeling the need for project management.

Based on my understanding and experience the following are the trends in Project Management that I foresee:

More use of Agile Delivery with governance through traditional project management:
We need to deliver faster using Agile Delivery capability. At the same time we need to have proper governance in Portfolio, Program and Project Management. Agile delivery will be for Project, Program and Portfolio Management. This gives the best of both worlds and can handle the practical need of speedy delivery and strong governance.

Use of multiple tools as best suited for the situation:
Scrum is not going to be the only tool that will be used by organizations working on Agile methodology. Even though Scrum will be at the core, but use of Kanban, Lean Startup, TDD, etc. will be used in collaboration to get the best out of it.

Focus on Delivering Value:
Focus will be on delivering value to the customer. Projects or Service, the focus is on delivering value and not just the output. PRINCE2 has always had strong focus on Business Value. We now see PMI also have made changes to the exam content to bring importance of Business Value.

Avoiding waste and collaboration will be important:
We see the need for more productive situation. This is possible by trying to remove waste like in Lean. The first is of having cross-skilled team and then only we will be able to have more work done. There will not only be cross-skill within the team but also use of resources across development and service management. Devops will gather more momentum.

Importance of Leadership skill:
The need for leadership skills is a getting recognized. We see this in the change of the Continuing Certification Requirement of PMP where Leadership and Domain are areas of skill acquisition required. Now we will see PMs to be looked at as a Leader and not just a manager.

Focus on Program and Portfolio Management:
Program management is going to grow in its maturity. Focus will also be now on implementing Portfolio Management properly to ensure right projects are taken up and also value is generated by the projects. We have already seen the focus on value creation and it is possible with good Portfolio Management and Benefit realization in projects.

Using Contemporary Communication:
Project Communication will now not only be limited to the traditional channels like signed documents and mails but also newer ones like whatsapp, trello and other social media. This will be more useful as we have virtual teams.

Contract change to accommodate Agile:
The contracts also will need to be written differently to facilitate the Agile delivery. It will no longer be Fixed Bid or Time and Material that we see but will be more flexible to meet needs of agile delivery. Customer involvement throughout the project will also be a requirement in the contract.

 

How To Address Poor Workload Management

images (35)You have noticed that your employee motivation is low- particularly because of stress due to an unmanageable workload. What can you do?

The fastest conclusion to reach is that there is an issue with time management- employees do not understand how to manage their time well. Signing them up for a time management class seems simple enough and you may think it will yield effective results. However, what if time management is not the underlying issue?

The problem may be simple: too much work. An overburdened employee is one who does not slack off, is focused on work with minimal breaks but yet cannot manage to complete all the tasks at hand. If an employee is consistently overworked, s/he may slowly become disengaged or disheartened.

As a manager, it is you job to be aware of the symptoms of poor workload management, as discussed in a previous post.

Now that you have recognized the issue, analyze the situation.

  • Is this workload issue contained to one employee or is it seen throughout the entire department?
  • Does this problem occur periodically or all the time?

Sit down and take the time to answer these questions because it will determine the course of action that you should take.

If it is an individual issue with an employee, meet with them and talk about what is happening. By touching base, you will not only understand his/her perspective but will show him/her that you do. If the employee is going through a temporary personal problem, you may consider alleviating some of the stress by redistributing the workload to another employee for a little bit.

However, if multiple employees feel that they are overworked or if this issue arises more times than typical fluctuations, additional actions should be taken.

Possible solutions may be to analyze whether you, as a manager, are encouraging your workers or compensating them enough. You want to ensure that your employees enjoy working with you and do not leave. Another reason that work may be piling on can be that your company is understaffed. Hiring additional employees, either full-time or part-time, will help redistribute the total workload and make it more manageable. These actions can help increase the employee motivation and create a more efficient and effective workforce.

If you need help raising employee motivation or workload management, consider partnering with a business coach. S/he can help you find the issue and develop a solution best suited for your company.

 

The Importance Of Correctly Managing Working Capital And Cash Flow

download (9)As your business grows, the more necessary your working capital becomes. Working capital is the money your business requires to function. If you don’t have enough, then your business is bound to fail. It’s a fact that many businesses that seem to be thriving are forced to shut down because they don’t have the ability to pay off their short term debts when they are due.

For this reason, it’s really important to employ effective working capital management strategies. It’s common for businesses to have the need to loan the money used to finance their growth. Based on the credit worthiness of your business, financial institutions will decide whether to grant you a loan or not. Credit worthiness is determined by two main factors: the existence and extent of your collateral and the liquidity of your business. These are reflected on your balance sheet. You can determine this by getting the difference between your assets and your liabilities.

This difference and your working capital ratios give creditors an idea of just how capable you are of paying your bills. Technically, it is your investment in current assets, including cash, inventory, accounts receivable, and marketable securities. Your current liabilities, on the other hand, are comprised of your accrued expenses, your accounts payable, and your near-term portion of loan due.

The difference between your current assets and your current liabilities is your net working capital. The term “current” means that they are to be liquidated within the period of one business cycle, which is typically a year. The management of this is extremely important for the growth and success of your business. This involves the decisions you make regarding short-term financing.

It’s all about managing the relationship between your short-term assets and short-term liabilities. It aims to ensure that you are able to continue operation with enough cash flow to meet your short-term debt and upcoming expenses. You can tell that your management is sound by your ability to convert your assets into cash that will go into paying off your bills. The ease with which you can do this is called “liquidity,” which is greatly impacted by the rate at which accounts receivable and inventory can be turned into outright cash.

How to Become a Project Manager – Selecting Your First Project

images (34)Having completed your project management studies you may feel well equipped to take on anything, no matter how challenging. However, as I am sure you have observed, some projects are more difficult than others. It would not be a good idea to take on something that will have you quickly stressed and wondering if you’re ever going to be successful.

Project complexity is always important to understand and it is something to pay special attention to when you are starting out. When I look at complexity, I look at two major aspects of a project i.e. technical complexity and stakeholder complexity.

Technical complexity refers to the difficulty associated with delivering what you are intended to deliver. Clearly building a garden shed is a lot less complex than designing and developing a rocket. What is important for you, is to ensure that you take on something that you are confident you can progress from the technical standpoint. In this regard it would be good for you to project manage something that you personally know how to deliver. If you have been a developer of sales and distribution systems, then taking on delivery of this type of software should be well within your capability. If the selected software uses the tools with which you are familiar, then so much the better. If not, then you will likely still be able to navigate the project as you will be working from the position of knowledge previously gained.

Stakeholder complexity refers to the complexity around the players involved in the project. This includes sponsors, board members, senior managers and those who will be directly affected by the outcomes of the project. This aspect of a project used often to be overlooked. While this is less likely to happen these days, the stakeholder complexity is still sometimes underestimated and those affected can feel they were not adequately consulted or prepared for the change. The more stakeholders there are, the higher the level of complexity. More importantly, the necessary interaction between stakeholders and their potentially conflicting requirements can lead to significant complexity. In this case, you have to find your way through the necessary consultation, assessment of pros and cons and presentation of your analysis such that informed decisions can be made.

Challenges can become significant when technical and stakeholder complexity interact. You may be managing a project that technically you are able to deliver in a number of different ways. However, without agreement on which solution is to be implemented, you cannot bring in your project.

 

A Shift in Focus

download (8)Did you wake up happy today? Did you jump out of bed excited to get to work because your work makes you feel valued, listened to and moving forward in your career and your life? Do you feel unwavering loyalty for your employer? Is your work ethic rock solid? Is this not the type of employees that businesses dream of; employees that are happy, loyal, and have great work ethics? The question is,

“How do employees and employers get to this ideal working environment?” Maybe, a shift in focus is needed.

Have you ever heard of appreciative inquiry? No? Then, today is your lucky day!

Here is the definition of what appreciative inquiry means, taken from the book-Appreciative Inquiry-A Positive Revolution in Change by David L. Cooperrider & Diana Whitney. (1)

“Appreciative Inquiry is the cooperative, coevolutionary, search for the best in people, their organization, and the world around them. It involves systematic discovery of what gives life to an organization or a community when it is most effective and most capable in economic, ecological, and human terms.” (1)

Imagine taking the focus off of what is wrong and focusing instead on what is working. What makes your business or organization stand out in a positive way? What empowers your employees and what do they do better than anyone else? Appreciative inquiry fosters asking positive questions that strengthen work environments to bring out the best in people. Appreciative inquiry assumes that there is future potential for positive change within each of us.

“Human systems grow in the direction of what they persistently ask questions about, and this propensity is strongest and most sustainable when the means and ends of inquiry are positively correlated. The single most important action a group can take to liberate the human spirit and consciously construct a better future is to make the positive core the common and explicit property of all.” (1)

Imagine bringing out the best in your employees by focusing on their strengths. How can you make your work environment magnetic where people feel so connected to their work and organization? Think about it. What would happen to productivity and sick time? Productivity would go through the roof and sick time would plummet. How exciting is that?!

Here are some notes I took, after reading the book Appreciative Inquiry- A Positive Revolution in Change (1), of how one organization answered the question,

“How can we engage the positive potential of all employees toward transforming the company?”

1. Set a goal of five stories of positive performance of every negative one.

2. They trained 50 people as internal change agents on various levels, in Appreciative Inquiry.

3. They also trained a large number of frontline employees.

4. They created opportunities for sharing new positive stories.

5. They created an Appreciative Inquiry teaching tool for all employees.

6. The Appreciative Inquiry model was introduced as a new model for unions and management.

Have I given you food for thought? If so, that’s great! Imagine starting each day knowing you are part of a positive revolution for change. Imagine how this concept will affect your children and future generations! You are laying the ground work to help unleash your and their full potential.

 

Leadership – An Introduction

download (7)The objective of this article is to look at leadership in more general terms. Another article looks at leadership as it relates to innovation in more depth.

What is Leadership?

I believe that this is a difficult question to answer, as there are probably as many different opinions as there are economists! A summarised view is:

· Leadership is setting strategies;

· Leadership is thinking;

· Leadership is being visionary;

· Leadership is getting things done;

· Leadership is being trustworthy and inspirational.

All of us probably think that we are great leaders when we review this list and compare it to how we conduct business and ourselves. If that is the case, then we would not have any bad leaders, and this is clearly not the case.

The question, therefore, has to be this. What makes a leader a good leader?

My simple answer is this. To be a great leader, it is necessary to demonstrate your commitment and understanding of the above points.

SETTING STRATEGIES, THINKING AND BEING VISIONARY

Leaders need to spend time setting strategies. In order to set strategies, they need to spend time thinking. They need to think of where the organisation has come from, where it is now, and, particularly important, where they want it to go in the future. Without this knowledge, the organisation is no different to a rudderless ship, weaving around the seas with no destination in mind, and therefore unlikely to get anywhere at all. Proverbs 29:18: “Where there is no vision people perish”.

Having identified where they want the organisation to go, they need to articulate this to all stakeholders, both internal ones (employees and management) and external ones (analysts, shareholders, etc). Without this communication, the organisation will be pulled in all directions. Leadership is more than merely talking about the strategy. Leaders need to communicate it – they need to lead the stakeholders through said strategy. Good leaders can do this in an appropriate manner which all stakeholders can understand. It is not just about formal meetings, but includes informal one to ones, chats in the corridor, on the way to the car park, near the coffee machine, etc. Consistency is critical, do not give out mixed messages.

GETTING THINGS DONE

Any person holding authority can get things done. A good leader will utilise their skills to ensure that things get done, efficiently and effectively. This means that tasks are done utilising the right resources with the right result. Poor leaders, as I said, do get things done, but without being efficient or effective.

BEING TRUSTWORTHY AND INSPIRATIONAL

This is the most difficult aspect to understand or to develop. In my opinion, this is the facet which really sets great leaders apart from good leaders. These abilities are both critical. One looks inward at the leader (integrity) the other looks outward (being inspirational).

Trust is very difficult to create and extremely easy to lose. As a leader, ‘actions speak louder than words’, do what you say you are going to do. This builds trust.

So what do inspirational leaders share? Four qualities include:

· They selectively show their weaknesses – vulnerability can reveal approachability and humility;

· They rely on intuition to gauge appropriate timing and course of actions – an ability to interpret soft data is critical;

· They use empathy in dealing with employees – they care about what employees do;

· They reveal their differences – they focus on what is unique about themselves.

Being inspirational is all about getting the best from people. It will be noted from the four points that these are all soft things which can be done.

Finally, four popular myths about leadership:

· Everyone can be a leader – not true. Not everyone wants to be, so do not have the motivation.

· Leaders deliver business results – not always. If it was the case, stock pickers would pick companies with great leaders.

· People who get to the top are leaders – not necessarily. Those at the top may have got there on political acumen alone.

Leaders are great coaches – rarely. Can someone who is inspirational always impart knowledge?

Innovation for Growth is a UK business consultancy firm which specialises in: strategy services; innovation audits and advice; business plans and planning; and business research.