The Thin Layer: Why Less is more…

Lego-train

More complicated doesn’t necessarily mean better

Today we have more data than yesterday. This is simple fact and the trend is only accelerating. Facebook alone adds more than 500TB of data every day, including more than 300 million new photos. Many Fortune 500 hundred companies employ thousands of servers with technology companies like Akamai, which is reputed to have more than 100,000 servers. As executives, the world has also become more data intensive with a distinct trend towards data oriented decision-making. I am a big believer in this trend and absolutely applaud the move towards a data centric approach to decision making. However, somewhere along the way a few important things got missed and most executives became overwhelmed by data rather than aided by it. The mad rush to back decisions with data led to the implementation of reports, dashboards, and other analytics without much thought as to what went into them. Where the data came from, its quality, and value became afterthoughts. In the end, many executives were not much better off then when they started.

 

This is exactly why I believe in the power of “The Thin Layer.” Whether it is architecture, engineering or business data—there is only so much we as humans can process. Gathering more than that is simply not worthwhile and worse, it can lead to poor decision-making because of a lack of focus on the components that are truly important. For most executives, there is a thin layer of information that truly makes a difference in their decision-making and that it is worth taking the time to distill this information into analytic components that can be routinely re-built and help you to standardize your decision making process. There are a lot of factors that may be involved in developing The Thin Layer required to support your decision-making including data quality, refresh times, authoritative sources, etc. However, at the end of the day a successful decision support system should not be just by the number of data sources, reports, or size of the source database. It should be judged on the value it provides in supporting decision-making.  If you absolutely must think of it as a metric or ratio, try the following equation:

Value to business/Cost to Develop & Maintain

As someone who loves developing analytics and reports, I know the temptation to show something because you can or because you have the data. Why use a table when you can have a spider chart? It takes all of my self control sometimes to reduce things down to just what I need for the decision. I’ve found from years of experience that in the long run, more data often will simply cloud the picture and increase the size of the haystack. You may need to go back and pull more data for specific decisions, or revisit the minimalist approach and add data over time; but by starting with less, I think you’ll find over time that you are able to make better decisions faster. It is also much cheaper to maintain.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Say the magic word “Sorry”

Use the magic words

After writing about Accountability & the Blame Game yesterday I started to think about an important aspect of being accountable which is the apology. I know that there is mixed research out there with regard to the effect a leaders apology has on the organization and the perception of the leader. Research aside it is my belief that when you are wrong in your personal or public life you should apologize—Immediately. My experience on the personal relationship side is that apologizing even if you aren’t sure if it is your fault is often worth doing. In fact I’ve often felt that taking the initiative to be the person who starts the healing process will drive the other person to see where they may have played a role in the issue. If you have an interest in saving the relationship be the person that starts the healing otherwise it may not happen.

I know this isn’t an easy thing as a person with a healthy ego and plenty of pride it can be very hard to be the person who reaches out first and says “I’m sorry.” I ruined a few relationships that I wish I’d held on to when I was younger because I was simply to stubborn to apologize. Whether it was because it was “mostly” the other person’s fault, or because I simply couldn’t bring myself to say those two simple words I chose my pride over my relationship. In the process I know that I sacrificed things, many of which I’ll never know because I lost all of the potential results that could have come from those relationships.

I’ve heard people say leaders should be very careful about apologies because they can be seen as a form of weakness. I couldn’t disagree more and there is a trend across recent popular business writing and research supporting the idea that apologies are good business. For a look at the role of the apology from the top leader of an organization read “Should Business Leaders Apologize? Why, When And How An Apology Matters by Linda Stamato. In fact the overall the trend towards apology is on the rise. Barbara Kellerman makes the statement that “The rise in the number of leaders publicly apologizing has been especially remarkable. Apologies are a tactic leaders now frequently use in an attempt to put behind them, at minimal cost, the errors of their ways.” From When Should a Leader Apologize—and When Not? on HBR.

 I think the best reason of all to apologize is still the same as it was when you were in kindergarten—because it’s the right thing to do. I think almost everyone has been told at one point or another when they were young to “Say the magic word” and saying “Please” is important too, but I have to say that as I’ve focused on trying to do a better job of saying sorry when I’m in the wrong that “I’m sorry” is pretty magical as well. Don’t let your pride get in the way of progress or personal relationships.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

The Morning Meeting

7 tips for a speedy and productive morning meeting

I’ve gotten a lot of feedback on my post about getting the most out of your meetings “The 3 P’s to Meeting Success.” For those that have asked me to be more specific, I’m dedicating this post to the anatomy of a successful stand up meeting. For those familiar with Agile development, this is where I originally got started holding these short meetings. Over time I have found the format is invaluable for keeping everyone on the same page across our organization without becoming a huge time suck where people essentially just listen to others report out.  The primary value is really only there for the one or two senior managers responsible for coordinating across projects.   I am a big believer in regular meetings that are very short for keeping groups engaged and collaborating on a regular basis. In the post below I’ve outlined the formula I believe will lead to successful stand up meetings.

  1. Be regular. Our team meets every morning at 9:15 for 15 minutes to do a company scrum that includes all of our key project participants. We never over run the 15-minute mark which ensures that we don’t become a time suck for people trying to execute.
  2. 2.    Have the right people. Given that stand up meetings are supposed to be short and ours is a 15-minute meeting, there simply cannot be more than 15 participants if there is to be any value conveyed in a collaborative fashion.
  3. 3.    Know what you are going to say. You should have a formula or template for responses in the meeting. I accomplished this [yesterday]. I am working on [today’s action item]. We have [any obstacle] and need to work with [team X]. We are [on/behind/ahead] of schedule.
  4. 4.    Hold to the time requirement. I stick to the format and the time no matter what. The temptation to get into more depth is always there. It is critical not to give in to the temptation to extend the meeting. The right response is to get the associated parties together after the scrum. Don’t waste other people’s time.
  5. 5.    Don’t waste other people’s time. This should probably be the first sentence in every one of these rules. Stand up meetings are not generally for reporting out. They are focused on discovering collaboration opportunities and overcoming hurdles. Everybody in the meeting should be focused on saying things that will inform the group about opportunities to leverage your activities or identify needs you have that others may be able to satisfy. Everything else is extraneous and should be done in a follow on meeting.
  6. 6.    Assign a note taker. This can be one person’s job or performed on a rotating basis. The recap should be sent to the group within 15 minutes of the meeting close with a focus on content not formatting. The template can be as simple as a list of the regular attendees with pre-existing points after them. Then simply fill in the blank. The only extra information should be listing the follow up meetings to be held.
  7. 7.    Focus on improvement. I try to end the scrum with enough time on the board to ask one very important question everyday. Are their any ideas for improvement? The focus here is general, across projects, and across the organization. Good ideas come from all over, but they may not make it to me if I don’t explicitly ask.

That is my lucky seven ideas for driving great stand up meetings. I’d be very interested in your comments and feedback on the topic.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

3 ways to ensure your transformation ends with a ROI

As an executive that is looking to transform his organization, it is easy to get caught up in the excitement of a particular methodology, technology or performance improvement initiative. There is often a sense of exhilaration as the possibility of applying the methodology you’ve been reading about, hearing about, or training on to transform your organization. I know, having been at the beginning of this journey a few times, that the excitement of doing something different and the possibility of what the future can hold can be strong stuff, to the point where the focus on the effort is all consuming. This enthusiasm can be the source of energy that helps drive a transformation program through to completion, or it can also result in over engineering, excessive devotion to a particular approach or methodology and push the program into failure. This can be a major obstacle in getting to the return on investment that a particular methodology or approach promises. One thing the wide spread availability of best practice information and process improvement methodologies has done is whet the appetite of executives that want to reap the rewards of these best practices and transformational methodologies. This has triggered an explosion of growth within the training, conference and speaking industries, that has not necessarily been accompanied with a commensurate improvement in the performance of the organizations following these approaches. I follow three rules for getting the most of any transformational activity:
1. Be honest about readiness

Whether it’s a book you read, speaker you listened to, or a conference you attended, what you took away is generally based on one person or group’s experience or success applying a particular method or technique. Before diving into a transformation effort or making estimates about what your ROI might be, make sure you take into account your own unique circumstances. Do you have executive buy in? Do you have staff with experience in this area? Will you be able to provide the resourcing required to see the effort through while maintaining your existing service levels? Will you be able to source the training, consulting staff, etc. necessary to get you to value? What is your organization’s history with regard to implementing changes of this scale? Be honest at the beginning.
2. Be thin and incremental

Most transformational activities that I have seen fail in the implementation of the approach or best practice, don’t fail because the best practice or approach itself was flawed. Often this has to do with a failure to scope the activities or anticipate the real level of effort. I think most organizations would benefit from drawing their to-be view of the world and then focusing on incrementing the path to it, in a way that there are no huge leaps of faith in those increments. It is much easier to do this if you keep your initial vision as small as possible. Remember that what you are undertaking involves changing the way your organization works and thinks, and that this takes time and effort. Keep your increments small in order to provide yourself with checkpoints along the way. Getting to small wins will help you achieve your larger goals. Choosing to implement the smallest vision of the transformation effort that ends in value will ensure that you actually get to value.
3. Stay focused on value

One of the greatest temptations as you enter into a transformation program, is becoming consumed with process to the detriment of enterprise value. Transformational activities often involve the building of new skills and learning new things. It is easy to get carried away and lose the original focus of the project, which probably included a return on investment. It takes real discipline not to become consumed with an approach and the rigid implementation of every aspect of that approach. Every time you begin to add scope, develop further granularity, or add another level of decomposition or analysis, make sure you ask yourself the value question. Remember that the success of the effort will not be graded by how complete the implementation was, but rather on the value gained by the organization.If you follow the three simple rules above you may not win any awards for how complete your implementation is for a specific methodology or approach, but you can be assured that you will gain some value for your organization. This approach doesn’t just work for large transformation efforts. I try to ask myself these questions about my individual tasking and calendar items every day. Do I really need to completely re-organize my filing system or will I get more value by just filing the one thing I need. Sometimes you do need to allocate the resources to complete a major transformation, but I have found that more often than not I can get more real value much quicker by focusing on smaller increments and smaller goals.


Joshua Millsapps
Senior Partner, Millsapps, Ballinger & Associates
Twitter: @jmillsapps

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.