Sunday, December 1, 2013

Introduction to Cloud Computing: the 3 things you need to know

Before getting into Cloud computing it's important to understand a bit of background and the three things you need to know about it..
The 'cloud' in cloud computing in the beginning refers to the Internet. The internet was referred as "the cloud" in the early days of public use of the internet. It was chosen so because it represented the nature the computers on the Internet, the network that connects them and the services offered by these computers. The computers were not always connected,  the network not always accessible or fast enough and the services not always available. There was a diaphanous quality to it. It was the opposite the way computers were back then to businesses.  The computers were usually in the office or somewhere in the organization. The company owned and operated the network and making the services available all the time was job no 1.
1. Cloud Computing is about cost reduction. Going by the explanation above, going to the cloud meant introducing a number of uncertainties.  Why would businesses consider them? Because of cost. The cost of making everything run, connected and available is very high. Going to the cloud is a cost reduction move. There is a lot of projects that claim to be 'going to the cloud'. As long as it is understood that the project is about cost reduction, the more likely the project will be considered a success.
2. Cloud computing is about virtualization. Cloud computing also is made possible by an old technology made new.  Mainframe computers were very expensive. So the engineers came out with a way of running several computers within a mainframe system. This is called virtualization. The ability to run many virtual computers within a physical computer is used in most cloud computing initiatives. This capability reduces the number of computers needed to bought and reduces the cost of running computers simply because there is less of them. Virtualization also allows businesses to 'make' computers that they need only for a short period of time. This allows businesses to handle seasonal work or test new systems without actually buying more computers.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Tips on being a Project Manager with part-time teams

Let's face the facts: nobody likes to be bossed around. Even if they only feel like they are being bossed around. This creates distance and resistance to accepting instructions and suggestions. The team that is not dedicated to a project full-time can see a project manager as another boss. So the barrier for communication and cooperation can get even higher.
Stay focused: the project manager's main job is to get the project done on time and on budget or just get the project done. This means getting other people to do their jobs, which is made worse because they see the project manager as another boss on top of their own
First, the project manager (PM) has to eat some humble pie. The ability to get other people to do their job for the PM is based on how good the skills of the project manager. Some humility mixed with steadfastness and a firm hand is required. Otherwise, it's just bullying.  Bridging that boss-worker gap helps. Here are some tips to start bridging that gap.
  1. Don't use project management phrases with the team. Using them can been seen as being snobbish and distances the project manager from their team. Instead, use words that describe what they are. It's not Project Objectives, it's 'what we want this project be able to do at the end of it'.
  2. Describe tasks as a smaller part of the bigger picture when it overlaps with other people's job. Often a company re-uses internal resources. This means people who are part of the organisation but not involved directly in the project or with it full-time. They become defensive if they think the project manager is doing their job or trying to take away their job. The PM has to engage them with the goal of having them understand what the project and the PM wants to achieve. They will either get out of the way or help the PM along. If they refuse to cooperate, the PM has a legitimate reason to work around them or replace them. It's best the PM document their refusal because working around them may incur additional cost.
  3. Understand the team's or team member's needs in relation to the project. The project manger has to show that they know what the team's needs are and understand why. The team members will appreciate that the PM understands them and their work. In most cases they will be more cooperative but the PM has to still prepare to take a stand when it comes to the project itself. 
  4. Do first the project management tasks or responsibilities that the team appreciates. Make it visible. It will go a long way if the customer appreciates them, too. Once the team can see project management tasks that they think is important being done, they won't mind the PM doing the tasks they value less (but is still important to project management).
  5. Create enough documentation process or documentation requirements to move the project along. The PM must be willing to change templates that cover too much or too little. The team has to see value in the documentation. The project manager must refer to them during meetings to show that the documents are being used and is useful. The PM also has to be prepared to take action when issue arise because they weren't used. This increases it's value even further.  
  6. Sign off on documents with your team. Documentation also establishes blame responsibility. The team knows that and may be reluctant to sign off on documents. Project managers should make it a habit in the beginning of the project to sign off directly below where your team members sign off. This shows that you are taking the responsibility with them
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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Frameworks Approach to managing and structuring a business operation

Clearly, a better approach than Best Practices was required. One that addresses not only the core business processes itself but the business organization and the supporting processes. The approach would have to take into account the varying conditions of the particular industry the business was in.
The Frameworks Approach became popular as it describes best practices very generally and does so within the context of organization and industry. It not only captures specific best practices and supporting processes but also their relationship with other processes within the organization. It also captures the general form of the organization where the best practice can be applied. The organization is described as part of the best practice itself and the process defined covers also interaction between different levels within the organization.
The Framework approach allows for different business organization to fit the processes within their organization. Managers planning the implementation would know where to modify the processes to fit to the organization or where the organization needs to change to adopt the process to gain the most from it.
The Frameworks approach also generally describes specific conditions required to implement specific processes. For example, it would indicate the tools needed to implement a specific process. It would then describe the tool in general or the functions and goals of the tool. This allows the organization to evaluate and choose the tool that fit the organization and the process. For example, a business may have a standard computer platform chosen for specifics reasons, for example, to control support costs. This would become the selection requirement of the tool itself. The process would not be affected because of this requirement so long as the tool chosen provides the specified functions the process needs.
In contrast, a collection of Best Practices may not be related nor integrated with each other. Different best practices may have different requirements which will contribute to the overall cost of implementation. While each may be the best for the specific production or process, it is no guarantee that combined together they will provide the business with a cumulative success.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Why Best Practices Fail to Deliver

Most businesses apply the elements of the scientific management process without question even though it was designed to manage production assembly lines. We now know that Best Practices can be too specific, even if they are generalized processes. Best Practices do not address the issues outside of the practice or process. Relying solely on implementing Best Practices of another successful business may not achieve the same result.
A key factor in the success of a business is the organization itself. That is, the organization that carries out the Best Practice. When implementing Best Practices, the organization has to either change it's qualities to match that of the origin of the Best Practice or modify the Best Practice itself to match the capabilities of the organization. Often it requires a bit of both and this impacts the effectiveness of the Best Practices to a business.
The success of Best Practices is also not just the successful implementation of the practice or process itself. It is also the result of supporting processes and additional conditions. Organizations seeking to emulate the Best Practices of a successful business have to also implement the same supporting processes and recreate the same conditions. This is sometimes not made clear or is not done at all because of various reasons. This contributes to the Best Practices not fulfilling their expectations.
Implementing Best Practices itself can be hazardous to the people attempting to implement them. This is especially when Best Practices don't yield the expected result. It would be hard to blame the Best Practice itself as it has a proven track record. So the blame is laid on the people who implemented it. People who were unable to change the organization of the business and were not allowed to implement the additional processes required and to recreate the same conditions the Best Practice flourished in.
The Best Practices concept is still used today and can be applied within industries that are more regimented or have similar organizational structures between businesses. The healthcare industry is a good example. Government regulations specifies minimum requirements or a baseline for it's operations and standards. The result are very similar conditions for processes and practice conducted by similarly organized businesses. Within these types of industries, Best Practices is very useful.

Clearly, a better approach was required. One that addresses not only business process itself but the business organization and the supporting processes. The approach would also take into account the varying conditions of the particular industry.

The better way.

Monday, October 7, 2013

The Self-Service CIO: Value vs Cost

Computers and communications, more commonly referred to Information and Communications Technologies (ICT or lumped as IT) play important roles in small businesses. Most managers don't realize what their roles are until they are gone. Business can come to a halt if the phone stopped working or the computer can't print. Some business can afford to wait for someone to come and fix the problem. For others, this will cost a lot of money.
Yet IT is viewed in some businesses as purely a cost center. Some even view it as a luxury. It is something that the business can live without. Businesses with this view will choose the cheapest option when it comes to acquiring products and services. The idea is simple: something that is just going to cost me, should cost me as little as possible.
The lesson here is that technology is judged by it's value, not purely by it's cost. So how do you begin to value something? You can begin to value something by viewing it as an investment. In fact, anything you buy for the company is an investment. From there the rule is simple: Get back the maximum value for your investment. Now you can look again at cost. Will the cheapest option give me the best value for my investment?
You want something that gives back the maximum value against your investment. However, you are left with the cheapest option because that is all you can afford. If that is your initial conclusion, most likely you are not looking hard enough. Most decisions for  IT solutions fall into either the Build or Buy category. You can buy a complete solution or you can get someone to build it for you from different parts or from scratch. You can expand this further by comparing to how much would it cost to build it yourselves, in whole or parts. Calculate the total cost (including the resources you are spending internally) and the risks before coming to a decision. This way, you are giving the maximum value to your company.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Self-Service CIO

Not every company can afford a CIO. But every company needs someone who thinks like one. So instead of running a business without one and letting the decisions related to computers and information not be made, this series will try to highlight the decisions and issues CIOs face. The decisions has to be made on case by case basis because not all companies are the same. What is good for one company is not necessarily applicable for another. So there will be information about technologies but it will always focus on what has to be decided and what the considerations have to be. 

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Beyond Scientific Management and traditional Best Practices

Most businesses apply the elements of the scientific management process without question even though it was designed to manage production assembly lines. Unfortunately, many managers view their work as just that, managing assembly lines producing particular results or outputs. These managers will do benchmarking and seek out Best Practices to improve their benchmarks. Even if you are managing an actual assembly line, Best Practices alone may not be enough to improve performance.
We now know that traditional Best Practices are too specific, even if they are generalized processes. They usually describe general positive attributes of a particular process and specific processes that produce a specific positive outcome. Best Practices in the past, did not address the issues outside of the practice or process.
A key factor in the success of a business process and the business in general is the organization itself. That is, the organization the carries out the Best Practice. There are attributes to the organization that makes the Best Practice work. It could be the structure of the organization or the specific skills of the people in the organization. When implementing Best Practices, the organization has two options. Either change it's qualities to match that from where the Best Practice came from or modify the Best Practice itself to match the capabilities of the organization. Changing the organization has it's own challenges and modifying the Best Practice may risk losing the quality that made the practice what it is. Often a bit of both is required and impacts the effectiveness of the Best Practices to a business.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Ruin Your Company: As CEO, be as vague as possible

Ruin Your Company series introduction. For the humor-impaired, the text in italics is sarcasm.

As the CEO, you have achieved the pinnacle of your career. You have networked, self-promoted and blown-out out of proportion (ehem, I mean rebranded) your minor successes ( plus the successes of a few other people) all the way up to the top. Basically now, 'work' is for other people.
Trust yourself when you think that being a CEO is about being vague. People should know how to do their work, so why should you provide a clear direction? The company will drive itself. Just point to Success, Profit and Market Leadership and the people who work for you will get you there. Call this: Demanding Results.
In fact, focus on Demanding Results. Leave the execution to other people working for you. Trust in the fact that someone in the company loves their job or cares enough about their job that they will do it well. Utilize these resources and trust your managers / empower them / let them take the responsibility for the fallout.
Explains the details enough so that your managers know you mean business and no more. You can further ensure this by making it clear how you want success to be achieved. It doesn't matter if the how doesn't connect with the what of the results. That's someone else job to fill in the details. Remember, yours is to be vague and Demand Results.
But if you see yourself as the hands-on CEO, don't stop at Demanding Results. Continue on to specifying the expected results in vague terms. Make sure the people who work for you know that you expect them to know the details of what you expect, just don't them what it is. Remember, don't stop being vague. 
As a guide, here are some way how you can be consistently vague
  • Answer questions with another question and demand your questions be answered first. Repeat if the answer is provided promptly
  • If you have to be truthful, do so in as few words as possible. Remember: details are someone else's job. (People say that the devil is in the details, so avoinding details avoids the devil, right?)
  • when people working for you ask for details, demonstrate leadership by providing answers that are ambiguous and filled with buzzwords. Remind them that keeping up with the meaning of buzzwords is their job and that you can't be expected to do everything
  • if you have to provide details, provide specifics on the general topic instead. The two do not have to related. Making the relationship is the job of the people around you. Everybody confuses the details with specifics
  • when details are discussed in your presence, act uninterested and focus on something else because it most likely not related to you
As CEO, you understand that being a CEO is generalist job. It is about management or the how of managing. You don't have to know anything about the industry you are in. When someone thinks you do, take another company doing the same things and use them as a comparison. This technique is successful because it works either way. Validate your success by comparing with another less successful company. When you need to provide direction, take a more successful company and point out that to achieve the same success, it requires doing the same things that company did.
As CEO, you must focus on your success. Measure this by your compensation. Only a successful company can provide you with the compensation package you demand of them. If the company is able to continue to do so, it is a clear demonstration that it is doing well. When the company is doing well, your job is done. 

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Sunday, September 29, 2013

Run Your Business into the Ground 10 ways or less: An Introduction

There are so many books and articles on achieving success. Sometimes, success can be achieved just by avoiding failure. Sounds stupid doesn't it.
But the truth is that many managers don't know what failure looks like. They don't have the experience of working in a failing company. They may not have worked for people who can't manage themselves out of a box.
So rather than writing about how to be successful, this series is going to be about what failure looks like. However, avoiding them is still your job.

Let's start at the top.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Demystifying Best Practices

What makes one business more successful than the other? Surely, the more successful business is doing something better than the a less successful one.
This question has probably entered the minds over every business owner at one time or another. A good manager would probably have thought of this at least once.
At some point, someone notices that the more successful businesses are doing roughly the same thing. It's a simple enough correlation to make: good practices result in successful business. It's not far from the adage, "you do good, you get rewarded". Thus, best practices was born.
Books are written about best practices in specific industries. In seminars, consultants drone on endlessly about them. Today companies throw around the buzzword "best practice" around until they feel meaningless. But is Best Practices really meaningless? Undoubtedly, they do work for the companies that became successful. But will they work for you?
Before proceeding, let's get a bit of perspective. First of all the concept of best practices is not new. It's not even a few decades new. It has been around for a while but in various forms. The most common form for Best Practices is a form of benchmark. When something that produces a result is measured, the measurements that is recorded when the best results are produced is called a benchmark. Think of Best Practices as the best benchmark of benchmarks.
Benchmarks comes from scientific management. This is when the scientific process is applied to ways of working in the search of productivity and efficiency. Benchmarks were recorded performances of a certain process that created the best results of a particular output. Other similar processes that produced the same output are judged on how close it was to the benchmark. Then, the benchmarks of different processes producing the same output were compared. The result is a winner, the best process. Quite often, each of these processes have their own peculiarities. So they were generalized into Best Practices. Best Practices within the same industry were put together to act as a template, a so-called template for success.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Reporting positively when you can't report on failures

In many organizations reporting problems or failures is not possible. It is either 'unacceptable' or has been proven counter-productive in the past (too much finger pointing, not enough done to prevent it from happenning again). In these organizations, there is a sense of denial: denial of the failures themselves or/and a possibility of failure. It is also the belief that being deaf to bad news ensures that only good news are listen to and thus contributing to an environment of positivism. These organizations tend to not last long either in structure or form.  More on that some other time.
So what does a responsible manager do?  Action has to be taken regardless of organizational belief and doing the right thing (reporting on issues and addressing them) is not an option. You can turn this around by reporting instead on successful recoveries and near misses. This way, it keeps to the mantra of good news.
The first step is to capture near misses. This is when the system or processes resolves issues before they become noticeable. This includes issues that are within acceptable service levels. This focuses these reports on the successful execution of processes and systems. These types of issues are statistically higher than actual problems. Near misses, as we are going to call them, happen more often than the problem itself (or a hit). So expect to provide summary reports for many similar problems.
Once this becomes acceptable, expand reporting to actual problems. The way to do this is to capture issues, resolve them within your structure and report on the successful result. This can be difficult when additional resources are required. In the spirit of positivism, frame the request for additional resources on the need to succeed in your efforts, that it is contributing to success. This is in no way an encouragement to prolong or even hide issues. Since service levels have been breached, efforts to rectify the problem will take priority. It's just you can't talk about it.
The key focus is to end reports on a positive note. Spend as much time and space in the report on solution and preventive action as long as the report ends on with a note of success.
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