A look back: Reflecting on my past self’s goals

A look back Reflecting on my past self's goals

I’ve had some things happen the past few day that has made me think about why I wanted to get into the IT business for myself and the type of company I wanted to have;  so I thought I’d share.  Basically, ten years ago I started wanting to get into work for myself and thinking about what that might look like. I decided that I should put down my ideas about what my goals are for this future endeavor.  I ended up with three high level goals. In retrospect now I’d maybe make them a little different but for the most part in their essence they still stand. They were:

  1. I wanted to work with cool people and really be a part of a great team.
  2. I wanted to solve interesting problems, work with cutting edge technologies, and work with great clients.
  3. Lastly, I wanted to make a lot of money.

As you can see these were pretty simple. I think I’d probably do a little bit more expanded version of that today but I think at the core, it’s still pretty relevant.  I think the first one about wanting to be a part of a team really comes from growing up playing sports and being on a team. There’s nothing more exciting than getting a chance to identify something that you want to achieve with a group of folks and working really hard to achieve it together. I find it more satisfying than just something that you could do yourself. It’s the shared aspect of it that for a lot of people, is just hard to replace.  You listen to guys that have retired from professional sports careers and a lot of them don’t talk as much about the money. They talk about missing the relationships and the sense of working together to achieve something and I wanted to try to recreate that.  It’s pretty rare in the traditional work environment to get something like that.

I got the chance to work at a company called Thaumaturgix that had a lot of people with kind of a unique set of circumstances in New York. We had people from all over and we really came together. We enjoyed working together and we worked hard, played hard. It was the first time I kind of had that same type of experience that I had on a sports team in the working world and I wanted to have something like that again.

The second one was working to solve big problems, work with cutting edge technologies, and help cool clients. Now while I mentioned the part about the greatness of achieving something as a team, I’ve also always been somebody who likes the feeling of being appreciated. I like the feeling of delivering something and of helping somebody out, almost from a selfish standpoint. There’s just something that feels good about somebody coming in and knowing they’ve chosen you to fix their problem. When you’re able to do it and complete the task, it feels really good.  On to the other part of my 2nd goal, I’ve always had an interest in technologies and being able to do something a little bit smarter, a little bit better, and tying that together with the great feeling you get when you’re able to solve a problem for somebody. It’s just a great feeling.

Finally, I wanted to make a lot of money. Now I won’t say that it’s the most high minded of goals but it’s accurate.  I think most businesses are in business to make a profit. Secondary to that, I didn’t want to have a straight services business because what makes a services business go is that it’s basically the difference between what you can get from a client and what you can hold your employees to. That just was not the model that I wanted to have.  It puts you in an adversarial role with your employees and a lot of times, it puts you in an adversarial role with your clients because you’re pushing so hard to keep that margin there. So one of the things that we’ve tried really hard to do at Millsapps, Ballinger & Associates is develop solutions and find unique ways of doing things that are turnkey solutions for our clients. That way you’re not paying me to work a daily wage as much as you are to solve a problem. I think everybody feels better about that sort of scenario and as a company, I don’t think many businesses feel too badly about paying for something that they know is going to solve their problem. So I’m curious what other people think, what gets other people up in the morning, and why they’ve chosen to do what they do and I just thought I’d share why I got into this thing.

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.

5 things to think about every morning before you start work


Start your day off right

Before you get started on your work for the day there are a few things you should consider in order to be more productive.  By taking these few minutes before you hit the grindstone every day you can organize your thoughts and needs for the day and really make a positive impact on your efficiency. Here is a short list of the questions I believe will help you in pursuit of that goal:

  1. What is the thing that you want to do the least that has to get done today? I know I’ve brought up this point before in a recent blog but I truly believe that once you identify your most undesirable tasking for the day and knock it out, your entire day afterwards seems downhill.
  2. You should write down the couple of things that you meant to do yesterday that you didn’t get to and make sure that you get them done today.
  3. What’s the most important thing you have to achieve this week and what is the next step you need to take to get you closer to that goal?
  4. What things am I doing today that are helping achieve the long term vision and mission of the organization? This point I covered extensively in recent blogs on the ideas of thinking big but starting small. It’s important to keep the big picture in mind when you’re doing things. You don’t want to get so bogged down in the minutia of the tactical world that you lose sight of your ultimate end game.
  5. Who can help me achieve the things that I need to get done today? Anything you need other people’s help on, you need to coordinate in the morning if you expect their help on it today. So getting people in motion early helps you be more productive without actually taking any more of your time.

These are just a few things I like to think about every morning before I start work in hopes that it can help make my day run a little smoother and efficiently.  I’d love to hear anyone else’s thoughts on things they think I missed on this list or their morning routines.

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.

Owning up to your mistakes

own up to your msitakes

One of the things that we’ve been working on as a company is doing a better job of client side communications like keeping folks informed about what’s new in the marketplace and areas where we have special insights where we might be able to help them improve. Obviously the idea there is to ensure that our clients know what we can do to help them and take that opportunity to engage us to solve those types of problems.  So a part of that is we do a lot more writing and outward facing communications via email then we’ve ever done before. We’ve had a very light editing process which has worked fine since we started doing this and we’ve never had an issue.  Well recently we sent out a client facing communication with a misspelling in the subject line. This wasn’t just any misspelling; we actually spelled assess as asses.

While that is attention getting I’m sure and maybe more people will take the time to read it then they otherwise would have, it’s probably not how we want to portray ourselves as a company.  Anyways, as soon as we noticed it we had a lot of internal debate over what we should do with regard to the email because clearly some people would notice it and some people wouldn’t. So it was one of those things where the internal debate of what it meant from a marketing standpoint was should we just let this go in hopes that people don’t see it or should we come out and talk to it? Should we essentially own our mistake and know that for some people, the fact that we made that mistake at all was going to be a big negative and was going to reduce our stature in those people’s eyes? On the other hand if we didn’t own up to it some were people were certainly going to still notice it. Where was that going to put us? What kind of opinion would that make for somebody?  These were he questions we were trying to answer.

So we talked it back and forth and finally we came to the conclusion that we just had to own up to it.  As we were going through the process of coming to that conclusion, I couldn’t help but think of things with my kids. It’s so hard to get them sometimes to admit that they did something wrong or that they made a mistake because they really want you to be proud of them all time. So as we moved through the process of figuring out how to respond to our mistake we learned a lot about how we made the mistake in the first place.

One of the things that we wanted to do was make sure that we didn’t make that mistake again and what I was interested in as we went through that is how many people actually owned the mistake even if they weren’t directly connected to the writing of it. It really hit home for me that each of the people that I talked to, a lot of them were owning up to the mistake themselves without real regard to how big of a role they may have had in the actual mistake itself.  There wasn’t a lot of “we did this” or “we did that,” it was just “I.”  I thought that was really powerful. It resonated with me and it helped me make what I thought was the right decision, which was to go up to the people you made the mistake to and say, “Hey I made this mistake and this is what I’m going to do to fix this.”

It made me think about how important it is to own up to your mistakes and in the end, it made the decision to go back out and talk to the clients that we’d sent that to a response because I recognized how that made me feel.  The difference between how I felt when I talked to somebody who owned the mistake of and said, “I cant believe I missed this” or some variation of that vs. a response of something like “We must not have got that,” is huge.  Accepting responsibility and saying, “I made a mistake and I’m going to fix it,” is a much more powerful statement to make and I think is universally acknowledged as such. Now I know I haven’t researched this but I think there’s a lesson in there in general on owning up to your mistakes and what kind of reaction it could have for the people that you’re talking to.  Maybe the marketing answer is you wait and see who responds back and address it specifically with them because otherwise you’re bringing it to the attention to people who would have otherwise missed it.  I don’t know what the well-researched answer is I just know what made sense for us and what felt right for us. I’d be curious to know what people’s thoughts are that and in particular, I’d love to hear from people who have marketing backgrounds on if we did the right thing from a business perspective?

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.

Consistency is Key

Conssitency is keyI’m going to contradict myself today and talk a little bit about the importance of consistency.  I know that I’ve had quite a few posts on here talking about the importance of agility and recruiting for people that can be agile. While I think the ability to respond quickly to a change in environment is incredibly important, I think as an executive or a manger it’s important not to not to overuse that. I know that the temptation is to reshuffle, to reorganize, to reconfigure, and to be ready to take on the next challenge. For organizations large and small, the challenge changes every day so there’s an enormous temptation to take in the new data points that you have and begin to tinker around to find that optimal mix that s going to enable you to achieve your goal. There’s a temptation there to over transform and I think sometimes that’s exacerbated by having really great people that are capable of that type of change.

I know that for myself as a consulting firm you’re constantly faced with new and unique client side challenges and you’re tempted to throw your best people at it all the time. The upside to that is that oftentimes you’re able to win that business, succeed for that client, and really achieve.  The downside is that sometimes you’re yanking people out of an existing assignment, a natural fit, or something that they’ve just begun to gain expertise in to do it.  While they may be very capable of achieving and as I just said they may help you reach a successful conclusion on many occasions, you need to be a little bit careful of how many times you stretch the rubber band.  I just think that people get fatigued from all the overhead associated with this constant maneuvering.  Not only are they doing all the things that normally do at a high level but if you’re constantly being forced to go at 120% to adjust to your change in circumstance, you get worn out.

When you’ve found somebody who can maneuver quickly between projects successfully, you need to be careful about how often you ask them to do those types of things. There’s a fine line between the excitement of learning something new and being reinvigorated by a new challenge, and becoming overwhelmed by an environment that never stops evolving, never stops changing, and never allows you to become very competent in any one thing.  Its something that really needs to be guarded against and I believe is a management issue. It’s something that you, as a manager and executive, need to be conscious of on a daily basis and make sure that the amount of change that you’re asking people to undertake is something that they can handle and sometimes it can be really difficult.  I know that for us, we’ve had periods where we’ve had to ask people to move across projects to bring specific insight and input into them, rely on things that they’re really good,  and also force them to really dig deep to learn either a new skill or to get up to speed on that particular client in a hurry. So you just have to be careful about asking people to go the extra mile all the time.

I think a lot of people, particularly in the business we’re in, agility is part of the reason they got into consulting services. A lot of the folks that we have got into it this because they enjoy new challenges, working with new people, and change is just really part of the allure.  So in our case, I think we can be a little bit more progressive with how any challenges we throw at somebody. Although I still think, even in that circumstance where somebody has signed up to work with a lot of different organizations and evolve their skills rapidly by virtue of the job they’ve taken, you still need to manage how much you throw at somebody.  It can be overwhelming even for really smart people who want that sort of challenge on a regular basis.  I’m curious what other people think as always.  I’d love to hear if you have a story about being overwhelmed, being asked to be all things to all people, or being stretched too thin, and how you felt about that.

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.

Relearning the value of customer service

Travel Hell Part two

As a lot of you folks know I recently went to the Troux Worldwide Conference. I’m was very excited to get down there. As usual there was a lot of great speakers, a lot to learn, and plenty of other reasons to just be excited about getting down there.  It probably were going to be a lot more exciting had I got there on time. Unfortunately, I got to spend a little bit more time on planes than I paid for.  I got a little extra for my money, if you will.

So it started to go awry when I went from DC to circling Atlanta, to South Carolina, and back to Atlanta in time to miss my connecting flight and every other flight to Austin.  On the upside, I did get a chance to learn that attitude is everything.  Now this isn’t a new lesson for me. I’ve learned this a few different times but it was really amazing the transformation in myself the other day. I had one of the worst customer service experiences I’ve ever had as I went through trying to get things sorted out with AirTran. Only to have my entire night turned around by possibly one of the best attitudes I’ve ever seen on a customer service representative in the face of a lot of adversity at Southwest.

So unfortunately for me I’d booked a flight that had the first leg on AirTran and the second leg was on Southwest. I came to find out this means that in reality, no one is accountable for getting me from point A to my final destination, they are only responsible for their leg. That’s not something that your told when the situation arises. So as I sat on the AirTran flight and we were finally coming in, I asked the flight attendant if they had any information about connecting flights. I was using the onboard internet, which is absolutely fabulous, and I wasn’t able to see if the flight had actually taken off. My connecting flight looked like it was just delayed. They said that they don’t have that information on the place, which would have been incredibly useful because I had to make the next flight. I was going to have to do quite the airport crisscross but I didn’t know that yet because I didn’t know what gate I had to get to. They said don’t worry there will be a uniformed service rep at the gate area when we disembark and I could ask them.  So I did that and I was told that I would only know whether the flight was there or not when I got there. It would seem that there would be better information than that available to someone who actually worked for the airline but I feel lucky that I was actually able to get the lady to break contact with whatever she was reading instead of talking to the people who had just spent an extra several hours on a plane. Many of whom probably needed to get to whatever there next destination was.

So I charged thought the airport which was good for me because I hadn’t actually gotten any exercise yesterday. I got a quick run in, actually a weighted run in, because I had my laptop with me and a lot of my stuff. So I was good, there was the upside there.  Anyways, I arrived sweating in my sweater at the gate and found out that I had no chance to make that plane because it had departed well before I had actually touched down.  That would have been nice to know before I ran the whole way.

In the process of all this my wife had actually found a flight on Delta that I could possibly get on. Unfortunately, there is no way to tell whether or not there were tickets available for that flight. Maybe I should have taken that as the note that there weren’t seats available, but it still would have been nice getting on the Delta app or online to see that the flight was sold out.  So I called into the help desk and actually sat in the 45 minute line to get to the front of customer service before I got through to the help desk or the reservation desk only to find out that there were no flights available.

The poor folks at the Atlanta airport, no one was having a good night there. They actually had about two hundred people, just a sea of people sitting in front of them. I have to say they actually did a pretty good job, given how many people they had, but as it turned out there wasn’t any room on the flight for me.  So I turned around and went back across the airport, got back in the AirTran airlines queue, sat through the line, and finally got up to the front. Unfortunately, I was told that while they knew that they had marketed the flight and sold it to me, it’s technically a Southwest flight. So they told me to go sit in their queue to get this resolved.  I got a kind of backhand wave in the general direction of my left indicating where Southwest was and the kind of blank stare past me that said, “I’m over you and on to the next problem.” So I left and at this point I’m steamed.

I’ve spent a lot of time in airplanes and customer service queues and not had a very positive experience.  I cruise down to southwest and I am ready to have the showdown of the century, but my plans were foiled because I learned yet again that attitude really is everything.  I’m sitting behind three people in front of me who really needed to get where they’re going and I see the customer service lady absolutely killing herself trying get them there.  She’s on multiple phones, she’s got this big smile on her face, and she’s clearly going out of her way to make sure that they get where they need to go. When she finally got it and she said to the people, “Go! Run! You’re going to be able to get on this flight!” These people who had clearly had a similar experience to mine and they just went charging off and they looked so happy. So I get up there and again she’s got this big smile and was like, “What can I help you with you? You look like you’ve had a rough day.” She was just very disarming and there was just no way to be mad at her.

She really just peeled back all the angry in just a few seconds because it was so clear that if there was anything she could do, she was going to help. So I explained my situation and she actually kind of thought outside the box and suggested that if I really need to be there tomorrow, she could get me to San Antonio. From there I could get a car and drive a few hours.  While I appreciated her thought, I ended up not doing it because it would have ended up with me driving from 3 AM to 6 AM in the morning and it’s just not safe and not something I wanted to do.  So I told her thanks but no thanks and she got me on a great flight for the morning, gave me some advice for finding the hotel right next to the airport, and set me on my way. In literally in five minutes she had changed my entire attitude about my experience and it was really great.

I know that Southwest Airlines recruits for that type of personality, or at least read the business case in school about it and I’d never experienced anything like that. One where I’ve had such a positive turnaround just on the basis of how someone interacts with me. I think there’s a lot to be said for that. I mean she wasn’t any more empowered to help than anyone else was. In reality, all she did was say you’re stuck going out tomorrow just like everyone else had told me, but it was the way she said it that made all the difference in the world. She gave me the sense that she really wanted to help me.    I was prepared to be angry and to have this horrible experience and I didn’t have it. This was largely in part because of the way she approached me. The smile from the start, the way she engaged the conversation it was really a powerful thing. It completely disarmed me and it gave me a positive sense for that company, despite the fact that they weren’t able to satisfy my immediate means.

I think it’s just an incredibly important illustration of how your direct customer interactions are and how important attitude is interacting with people.  It changed the way I perceived all the airlines I interacted with and in the case of Southwest, it created an incredibly strong feeling that they’d tried to help me as best as they could even if they weren’t able to.  I don’t know if it will influence my buying decisions a year from now because you know things fade but right now, if I had to travel somewhere next week and there was a way to get there via southwest, I’d use it. So I don’t know how durable it’ll be but right now I really feel good about my interaction with that company. I know one of the most powerful things someone can do is solve your problem but if you can’t solve somebody’s problem the way they want, interaction is really important. So again it was just a great illustration of that. I’m curious to hear other peoples experiences whether they be good or bad when it comes to customer service.

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.

Troux Worldwide Conference: Day 2 Highlights

I had another great day at the second day of the Troux Worldwide Conference and I’d like to run through some of the highlights. I’m going to try to be a little bit briefer then yesterday so I’m not going to give you a breakdown of all the sessions, just some of the things that really jumped out at me.  One of the first things I’d like to talk about is a presentation given by Craig Dalton. He spoke about the playbook for Enterprise Portfolio Management success. I think one of the things that was really interesting was that he opened with a little bit of a discussion around how you go from answering questions to sustainable business value. This is interesting because so much of the conversation was about the ability for Troux customers to get to value in rapid fashion and get these huge return on investment numbers but I think there’s less focus on how you sustain it over time.  He answered the question of how do you get that year over year value that you really want to have as an organization.  Now that’s not to discount all of the discussion that centers around ROI and that rapid path to value because it really is so impressive. That is what has driven an incredible growth for Troux as a technology company but I think it It’s a great point. So I thought it was great perspective since so many of the other presentations focused on the big bang they got in the beginning and not on how they continued to sustain that value. So in the discussion on sustainability he made a point that the tools are only a part of the journey. People, process, technology, information, and experience are a part of the journey towards that sustainable business value and can’t be discounted.

Dalton continued his talk with advice on how to ensure that you capture your lessons learned along the way, that you grow from the mistakes that you make, and that the mistakes that you make are going to be inevitable.  He also said that answering important questions is something that they stress a lot, which if you’ve been around Troux folks, they constantly talk about ensuring that you’re answering questions. The distinction he made was to make sure that they’re making interesting and important questions to the business, not just to you. I thought was a very fair statement and one that we tend to forget sometimes.

His next point he stressed was mentioned several times in talks yesterday and that was ensuring that you only get the data you need and not allow yourself to get sidetracked by gathering interesting information. Once you go in and ascertain the questions that you’re going to answer for very specific stakeholders you can’t get sidetracked in that journey because there’s so much effort that goes into getting the data. I know I touched on this point in several instances from the presentations from yesterday but it’s something that I think is worth mentioning again. Since it literally came up in almost every presentation made that you make sure that you maintain that sort of laser focus it clearly needed to be drilled home.

One of the other interesting points that Greg made was that it’s important to embed yourself in existing value producing processes so that you can understand where the organization might get value from. When talking about this he mentioned a little about TOGAF and some of the other things that are out there and used in organizations. He discussed how to map yourself into those processes to ensure that you are helping to provide value from something that is already producing value for your organization because it just makes it easier for you to obtain success.  Now the last thing I want to highlight from that session was that it also contained my favorite slide from probably the whole conference which was a huge picture of Yoda with the slogan, “Do or do not, there is not try.”  He went on to say that you absolutely have to tie yourself to some of the key processes in your organization or you’re simply not going to be successful. I just want to highlight a few of these that he touched on which are: annual budgeting and planning, technical standards management and procurement, project investment planning, and governance.  He said that those are some of the critical pillars that you have to be able  to support as an EA organization and as you implement your tooling strategy if you want to maintain your business relevance.

Another great presentation was put together by Sherry Jordan, who is the Enterprise Architecture Portfolio Manager for Cummins, Inc. She focused on some fairly specific areas and talked a little bit about a specific series of reports and processes her and her team had put together to address risk within the organization.  I really liked it because oftentimes presentations at conferences like these are given by executives and there’s not very much in the way of deep dives into the actual implementations. So this was little bit different presentation and I really enjoyed it.

One of the things she called out was the overlap as you go in and you’re pulling together your data and doing some categorization. One of the really important highlights that you can bubble up is this overlap between obsolete technology and mission critical applications and that is what incredibly important in determining risk within your portfolio.  Then she went on to explain and took us on a sort of walk through a series of the reporting efforts that have been done to highlight this and to support the process for developing plans to address risk within the portfolio. She broke these down into three bullet points

  • Building out a triage report that talks about the specific impact of projects
  • Which technologies don’t adhere to standards
  • What the architectural risk is that’s being presented

For bullet one she talked about having an architectural review board report that carried some of the most important features and a recommended course of action for the project. For the second bullet, she made a statement about the impact of the applications in technologies. For the last bullet, she highlights the use of out of compliance technologies. A lot of this reporting is designed so you really understand the risk you have around key technologies and applications. Part of that is so you can review something later so you can understand why something may have happened and part of that is so that you can do lessons learned. One of the biggest things she mentioned was about having these packaged information intake and review mechanisms is that it can press project review times and allow them to get to value faster. You can use them to push things through.  For example things that used to take weeks, take days, and things that used to take months, takes weeks. So it was a really interesting walk through the specific reports and analytics they use to understand risk within the portfolio and to move projects through that portfolio. In a way, that ensures that al the parties at the table understand what the risk is and that they’re able to go back afterwards and diagnose where something may have gone awry if it does or understands their successes as well. So I thought it was really good.

Another great presentation was done by Mark Bodman who was formerly of Dell.  Specifically, he’s also been a Troux employee and now he an Enterprise Architect for Hewlett-Packard. He opened with a great history of both Troux the tool, enterprise architecture in general, and then a kind of glimpse in the future about how big data was going to impact how enterprise architecture shops work.  He talked about dynamic models and models as queries. It was a really great sort of end to end where presentation about where this whole EA thing got started and where it is headed and I really enjoyed it.

He then talked about some of the business cases for EA, which I also really enjoyed. He talked about M&A investitures, as a underutilized business case, data center transformation, and then app portfolio reduction, which is fairly common use case. Now I don’t want to go into too much detail on each of those but I thought the M&A one was really interesting. He highlighted some organizations that use Troux around their M&A practices like Cisco as an example.  He talked about how as you enter into a merger you know you’ve got company A that has people, processes, applications, and technologies; and then you have company b that’s got people processes, applications, and technologies. When you merge all that you’ve got two xs of all of those and a lot of the value that’s expected by management out of those mergers and acquisitions comes from that addition of some of the capabilities of each company. It theoretically should create this greater and more valuable whole while you consolidate the back end functions in terms of people, processes, technologies, and applications that are now redundant. Problem is that you’ll never get to the full value that you expected if you’re unable to get there. Obviously the more rapidly you can get to a rationalized technology and application portfolio and identify those redundancies, the quicker you’re going to be able to get the value that you expected to get from marrying the unique capabilities of one company with another.  So it was erally an interesting and exciting talk around that area.

With regard to the data center transformation, he focused in on the fact that it’s a multi-year journey and there are some very critical issues that you need to look at. They include

  • Timing
  • Capacity
  • The function of the things that are being supported within the data center
  • Architecture
  • Dependencies

Those five bullet points are things that are critical to understanding how to move forward.  Finally application portfolio cost reduction which is something that Troux has absolutely nailed. He talked about just how simplistic the idea is. When you look at the capabilities of the organization, you put the applications into those types of buckets, and it very rapidly highlights where you have overlap and redundancy. Even though it’s a very simple idea it’s one that most organizations when they carry forward, they find out that there’s an enormous amount of value that can be captured. By simply looking at that picture of, “hey here are the business capabilities that I have and here are all the different applications that I have supporting them,” and beginning that rationalization process is something that is incredibly eye opening for organizations that come into it.  Then he highlighted that as you go through that process you need to be careful that you focus on or understand the difference between count and cost. You have to be very careful with how you do definitions for your capabilities for potential gotchas.

The final presentation that I want to touch on, and I’m not going to be able to give it justice because I have to get to the airport, is Peter Chorlton’s. He closed out the event and he talked about the top five things that you have to do as part of your EA engagement and it was a really good and very concise. He talked about understanding where you have to start and ensuring that you identify your sponsorship.  From there you need to understand if there is something that’s specific for them that you need to work forward from or if there is a specific interest or pain point for them. I think the point there is that you have to get to value rapidly but it has to be value that’s understood by people in the organization that are helping to support the effort, That’s all part of being able to make yourself
sustainable. You know you’ll have lots of opportunities to answer questions that are important to you but you have to start by answering questions that are important to the people that are writing the checks for your effort. So on some level I think it’s kind of an obvious point but I think it’s one that people miss as they get carried away by all the things they can do.

His second point is that it’s important to engage the business. Now we hear this all the time but again there’s nothing that I’m telling you in this presentation that you haven’t heard before or that you don’t know. It’s about being disciplined about sticking to those few very important things so again, he talked about how important it is to engage the business aspect in order to ensure that you are successful. His third point was identifying organizational resistance. This point was touched on by a lot of other speakers over the course of the conference about ensuring that you do a good job managing your communications. You should have designed communication so that people understand where change is coming from. You also need understand that no matter how much you believe in your efforts, how great what you’re doing may be for the organization at large, that you’re always going to have pockets of organization resistance. Having developed an approach to identifying and addressing those issues is critical to your final success.

Finally point four is familiar to everyone who has been reading these posts of mine, and that is getting the data. Once again it seems obvious but he talks about people consistently underestimating how much effort it takes to get that data in. It’s important at the outset, as an organization, that you keep the scope small enough on a project at the beginning to enable yourself to get all the data you’re going to need to answer the questions. This also helps to not underestimate how hard it’s going to be and make sure that you have your sponsorship lined up to go out. It also helps to work with members of the organizations and executives to ensure that you have access to things that can help you get that data in.

Then finally there is point five which was around sustaining value.  He talked about ensuring that your decision making processes changes along with the information that you have available to support those decisions.  So he talks about sustaining success depending on enterprise portfolio management becoming a management discipline, which was a great point because as I mentioned earlier so much of the Troux story is centered around answering those initial questions. If you want to have a sustainable practice though, you need to change the way the organization makes decisions over time.  So again I wish I could spend more time but I do need to get to the airport and there’s almost no way to capture all the value that I feel like I got from my short visit to Austin.  So I hope to see you all next year and I really enjoyed it.

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.

Troux Worldwide Conference 2013: Day 1

Unfortunately due to some travel issues I missed some of the morning sessions at the Troux Worldwide Conference and apparently I missed some absolutely spectacular presentations. They  included: “The New Normal” by Peter Hinssen and “The Journey to Business Value” by Bill Cason, but I did get there in time to catch some really good presentations. So I wanted to run you through some of the highlights of what I did get to see.  I got into the conference about noon, just in time to grab lunch.  It’s being held at the Four Seasons in downtown Austin which is just a spectacular venue and I can’t say enough about how nicely put together the event is. Added to that, the quality of the presentations alone really makes it well worth coming.

So the first presentation I was able to attend was “Enterprise Delivery of EA Services-Cargill’s Revised Approach” put forward by Michael Dockham, an enterprise architect at Cargill. On a side note, what’s amazing about some of these speakers is not just the success that they’re having leveraging Troux to achieve business goals and to help do enterprise portfolio management, but it’s in the scale of the organizations that they’re able to achieve this with such speed. Take Cargill for instance. If Cargill were a publicly traded company, it would be the 12TH largest company in the world. If you want to talk about complexity, they have 75 business units, they are in 65 countries, they’ll have been in business for 150 years in 2015, and they’ve got more than a 1000 locations.  As Dockham was running through some of these statistics and I was thinking about what it takes to get an organization that large to adopt and get value from something, it’s a truly daunting and difficult task.

It was interesting to hear him talk about their history with enterprise architecture which really got rolling in 1994. It gives you a sense of the degree of complexity and the level of effort required to be successful in a large organization, but it’s also mind blowing when he talks about their pace of progress. He talks about the last few years and the speed at which they were able to get to value and especially in the last year, as they went through the Troux implementation and what it meant for their organization. He went on about just how transformational this technology could be within their organization, how this massive increase in capability happened in just one year in an organization that’s been working at this EA since 1994.

I thought some of the really important insights that he had were around business value. They have a CIO that comes from the business side, who has been in charge of food services and just recently, one of the largest SAP implementations in the world. He talks about his keys to winning, being driven by business value, being trusted by the business, and being an organization of choice. This organization of choice idea was, to me, a really nice way to talk about providing enough value to your business side customers so that they want to come to you. That was one of the things that he kept coming back to in talking about the various portfolios.  They’ve got technology portfolios, application portfolios, business strategy portfolios, and their ability to link those things together and really provide the ability to make decisions faster and with a higher degree of confidence, which is clear business value.  He made it his business to have people coming to him to do that.  So with this in mind, he gave a to do list for EA leaders. One of the things it included was not discounting the effort it takes to populate the data, which I thought was a great point. It’s something that people spend so much time thinking about, their method, or their approach, and their technologies. He highlighted that a lot of the real effort is in stitching together the information you’re going to need to be able to make ongoing decisions. You need to focus on the results.

He also talked a lot about capturing data at the right level to answer stakeholder questions, which presumes you know what questions they’re going to ask. Another point he mentioned was having a communications pro to be able to communicate out the type of information that you have. There’s so much specialized language and methodology and approach in EA and they help you deal with the complexity of the business problem that you’re facing. All the value you can create for your organization is nothing if it is not understand by your business.

Another great talk I attended was given by Klaus Isenbecker who is an IT architect for Bayer, which was entitled “The Secret Ingredients of Success.” To build on what Dockham was saying about the importance of communication to the business side, he made a very similar point. He said that oftentimes EAs get very impressed with their own information and complexity of it and things then get lost in translation.  He mentions having this “Aha!” moment when he saw the light of EA and what it could do for the business. He then made the mistake classic of going and grabbing somebody on the business side, telling them his revelation, and then getting this blank look from them. He said it was a lesson learned because the person that he spoke to didn’t really care about all of that EA stuff, what he cared about was the answers that he needed to know and that was it. I thought it was a really great point. I think sometimes there’s a tendency to be overly impressed with your own cleverness, with how exciting it is to be able to connect all these dots, and I think for a great many people, especially in these great big organizations they don’t really care about all that. They care about if you can you answer their questions and that’s it.  Klaus’s talk was probably one of the least focused on Troux itself that I’ve seen at one of these conferences but it was incredibly valuable from[JC1]  the standpoint of providing insight into what are the soft side skills required to enable transformation.

The final presentation from day 1 that I want to highlight is, “See the forest from the trees!….Shifting IT’s focus toward Investment Planning,” by Julie Standley, who is the Director of IT Demand Management from American Electric Power. This was yet another absolutely insightful talk.  American Electric Power is an older company, 106 years old, 15 billion dollars in revenue, and 57 billion dollars in assets. There’s a lot of complexity brought on by the fact that it’s both in the regulated space and a competitive space. She talked about having to maintain two very separate sets of plans for people, processes, and technology within the organization to help manage the differences in those business models and what it means for managing those types of large IT portfolios that are required to run a very large power business in the US. She also discussed being a CIO in that organization in a circumstance where there’s one large pot of money and there’s a lot of masters out there that need to be served. So how do you manage all that priority and how do you do investment planning in that environment? You have to be able to work down the chain from strategy to the technologies enabling that strategy, and really using Troux, and management, and architecture, and investment portfolio planning as a way to bring the company silos of operations together. It’s really a unique vantage point for through which to view the organization because for most of the rest of the company, the view is very dependent on the particular silo in which they reside. So it was really very exciting to listen to her talk about how the organization was able to use Troux to bridge the gaps between those silos and facilitate information flow to help the entire organization perform better, but also to manage the type of compartmentalize complexity that is required by the regulatory environment that they exist in.

So all in all it was just an absolutely great day. I can’t say enough about how much you can learn in something like this because they’re all talking about, at least in cases of most of these presentations, trying to solve the same problems that other large organizations are solving. You can learn a lot because there’s no marketing to speak to these issues. These are your own peers, in their own words, describing how they’re solving their problems. I think it’s just if you happen to be in this business, that it’s something that’s worth coming to see. I’m not saying that you can’t learn a lot by talking to the people that sit within any sales organization or engineering organization that you might be dealing with, but Troux is a great example of having a lot of great practitioners who also happen to be great sales folks, great engineers, and all that sort of stuff and it’s always nice to hear it from customers mouths. That’s the big focus of this event, bringing together those people or at least that’s my take away from it, so hope you enjoyed and I’m off to enjoy another great day today. Hope to see some of you here in the future.


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.

Upgraders beware: A tale of hidden costs and frustrations

Blog 3-19-13

So I recently I upgraded to Windows 8 and while I’m sure that the software is a big improvement over XP, which is what I had on this particular machine, it became a source of much frustration for me. It all started when I ran Microsoft’s compatibility utility to see where I stood with my upgrade.  It flagged Skype as having issues, and about ten other pieces of software as requiring an upgrade after installation. The computer that we were doing it on was for an admin and so we said ok we’ll go ahead and do the upgrade.  I stepped through the basic steps to install the operating system and once it was done our admin went to go work on a piece of correspondence. Microsoft Office didn’t work. In fact, Microsoft Office couldn’t be found, so clearly there must be a mistake.  So we took a look at it and couldn’t figure out how to get it work and decided to contact Microsoft. This was where the trouble really began.

When we got a hold of Microsoft they said that this has been known to happen and asked if we had the keys to our previous Microsoft Office install? Well as you can guess from the fact that it was an XP machine, it’s a pretty old installation. In fact, it was several years old and we’re a small business and we couldn’t find the licensing keys. We had moved offices since it had been installed and one of the things we lost was a book with a lot of the licensing keys and other things in it.  So I ask the Microsoft contact, with the assumption that it should be fairly simple to get a key, to get the problem worked out, or to roll back to the original configuration, what to do. The admin spent about three hours on the phone, got hung up on twice, and couldn’t get anything accomplished.

So I got on the chat and found out that there was no way to get back to XP and that I’d have to buy a new copy of Microsoft Office. I had to do this despite the fact that we have downloaded lots of other things from the Microsoft store. We should be listed as a pretty good customer and have been a Microsoft partner in the past. I guess at the end of the day my frustration stems out of all the software problems we could possibly have, this one is clearly by design. It would appear to be to drive revenue because otherwise why wouldn’t you mention the probability of losing your Office access in the installation somewhere. Putting something like, “Make sure if you do this upgrade you have your product keys available, otherwise you’re going to have to buy new software.” It just seems that given the fact that they take a lot of time to warn you about many other software issues you might experience, it seems disingenuous to not warn you about software problems that they know you’re going to have; like if you have Microsoft office it’s not going to work when you start Windows 8 back up. Also if you don’t have your license keys or access to the physical media that you installed from, you’re not going o be able to use it.

Now I understand that they have an interest in maintaining a hold over there software but on some level, I feel like we’re probably on the lower end of likely pirates given that we’re a software company and buy plenty of other things from Microsoft.  If we were pirating software we probably would have got a crack for all the accompanying software and taken care of the problem ourselves. The fact that they’re not willing to issue a new license key is ridiculous. Either warn us in advance if you know this problem is likely to happen or don’t make a big issue of it when you call in.  Basically, we had three separate support people tell us that there’s nothing else that we can do besides buy the license. It’s already cost us more in resource time then it would have been to buy the license in the first place. It’s just bad business and is leaving an extremely poor taste in my mouth.

A few years back, we had decided to standardize on Windows despite the fact that most of us had been Mac users for a long time. This standardization of Windows was really for the access to some business software. In fact, to this day I write and use almost solely my Mac, which makes this situation even more frustrating because I’ve never experienced this sort of problem with Mac. It makes me wonder if Microsoft, other than having the type of market dominance that it’s had, would they abuse their customers this way if they were in a less dominant position.  It makes me curious what other people think about this. Do you think that since I don’t have the license it means I don’t own it and was right to be made to rebuy it or you they feel that an accommodation should have been made for me?  I’d be very curious to hear what people’s feedback is.

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.

Agility: Not just for athletes

I’ve talked a little bit about this in the past, but I think one of the things employers really value right now is employee flexibility.  That seems to be obvious on the surface but I think for a long time people were heavily recruited for very specific skill sets. The idea was that employers were looking for deep knowledge in specific technologies. For example, you wanted to have a Java developer with ten years of experience or a C++ guy with ten years of experience and you really valued that time on the keyboard. I don’t want to say what I’m about to say without the caveat that there are lots and lots of situations where you are definitely recruiting for depth of experience within a specific subject matter or expertise area. With that being said, I think from a more general standpoint there are a lot of places that are recruiting more with the idea that those skill sets are going to change several times over the course of an employment period.

Employers are looking for the types of people who can scale into new jobs, are able to learn new things, and have flexible mental frameworks. The world is changing so fast that you simply can’t expect today’s skills to be applicable tomorrow if those skills are very specific technology skills or very specific subject matter skills. This increased pace of change is going to place a newfound emphasis on more general skills like the ability to collaborate and the ability to communicate, things that I think got the short-shift in the past because we were so focused on looking for some very specific expertise. Say your business is retail or something like that, an employer might be interested in the candidate having a background in mobility but they may be less concerned about what specific technology implementation it is because that may change over time.  It may be beneficial if you happen to have the specific technology they’re using, but all things being equal they may pick you up no matter what. I think they will be more interested in whether or not they can they collaborate, they can they work well in a team, and whether or not they can make a jump or a shift if they need to.

I think this represents a positive shift in the way companies are thinking about their employees, as longer term assets.  I think there was a period where people were very focused on the idea of hiring knowledge workers, but those knowledge workers really looked more like factory workers of the past. By that I mean you made widgets and whether those widgets were code widgets or sprinkler heads it was a very specific set of skills that went into it.  So they could just hire anyone with that set of skills and the ability to communicate to other people wasn’t necessarily as important as knowing how to piece together the widget. I believe that that’s changing a little bit.  I think that there’s a widespread belief that good people are really hard to replace and what defines good people is that ability to transition rapidly between assignments, to communicate well with others, and to work well in teams. Those are the things that drive high levels of performance and just an innate ability to learn, understand, to go forth and conquer problems, and have a mental framework for dealing with problems that you haven’t solved before as opposed to a skill where you solve the same problem repeatedly.

I’m not trying to make a blanket statement across all organizations performing all things. As I mentioned earlier, there are industries that require enormous subject matter expertise and that will probably never change. I just think that the more general trend is towards finding the right people. Hopefully they have the specific right skills right out of the gate but I believe that there’s more of a willingness to shape that after you’ve made sure that the person has the right mental framework, the right outlook, the ability, and the desire to be able to deal with evolving situations.  So I’m curious what other people think. I know some of my view is tinted by being in the industry that I’m in which is consulting. In our industry there’s a focus on being able to be a problem solver first and a technical expert second. So often what you find in an engagement is that a lot of the heavy lifting is in positioning the problem and being able to step back and see the whole system for what it is. Secondly, it’s maybe a specific technology implementation or a specific skill set that’s required to address that area. So again, just very curious to get feedback on this.

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.

What to do with life’s lemons


Hopefully it doesn’t happen too often, but most of us over time will face circumstances where we just have to make the best of things and find the silver lining in something.  Whether it’s a job or a contract you don’t win, there are so many times where you have an opportunity to either take the adversity you’re facing and find the opportunity in it or simply take your lumps.  In the best cases, you’re able to find that silver lining and turn that adversity into something that wasn’t there before. I think that in order to do that you need to follow a couple steps.

The first step is to understand who benefits or where the opportunity lies.  Sometimes that can be hard to do if you aren’t able to take a step back from the situation and really assess it without your own interests in mind. The temptation is to focus on things like maybe they didn’t evaluate correctly or the things you did wrong. Not to discount getting lessons learned out of setbacks but I think the time for that is a little farther down the road. Immediately following a setback there is a small window available to look at whose benefiting in the contract winning scenario, it’s probably whoever won the contract, and then identify where the opportunities are to align interests.  Again, in that particular situation it may be that you have some special insights into the customer or maybe a special skill you possess that was the reason you were pursuing it anyway; that would be where the opportunity for you is.  Figure out a way to help the person who is coming in and align your interests in a way that allows you to get some benefit. It may not be as much as you were going to get originally but something is better than nothing. Same thing goes for if it’s a job you didn’t get. It doesn’t hurt to get a better understanding of who did get the job, especially if it’s inside your organization.   If you simply take that set back and then don’t work with that person to move forward, you may miss an opportunity to build a relationship that might bring benefit down that road.  Those are just a couple examples.

I think in almost every setback you face, there’s an opportunity buried somewhere in there if you take it and look at it from a big picture view.  We oftentimes miss out on opportunities because we get so focused on the negative parts of things instead of searching for the small wins. We focus on the big loss and to me, there’s an enormous amount of value squandered in trying to assess how you lost and beating yourself up over it.  Maybe there was a little bit of misfortune, maybe you made a big mistake, but once the mistake is made, dwelling on it isn’t going to make anything better.  All that does is depress you and rob you of precious time you could be using to figure out a way to utilize the hand you were dealt.  Find the little opportunities that may still be sitting out there and you may be able to not take so big of a hit in the loss.  So I’m curious what other people think. As I said earlier, I don’t want to discount the benefit of lessons learned but I do think that lessons learned are for a little bit later in the process. When you first take a hit, the immediate focus needs to be on finding the small opportunities that allow you to minimize the impact of that setback.

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.