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.

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

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.

Get that weight off your shoulders: What mornings are really for

3-14-13

Don’t let unpleasant tasking cast a shadow over your day

I think sometimes the most important thing we do all day is the thing that we are dreading doing the most.  I know that for me, there’s always a bunch of things that need to get done.  Some of which you’re “eh” interested in but either you get them done or you don’t, it’s not that big of a deal. Some of them you’re excited to do, you’re interested in it, you’re engaged, and it’s good stuff. Then there’s probably a few things that you really don’t want to do.  You know it’s going to be hard, whether it’s a painful phone call, or slogging through a boring manual, or any number of other tasks that I know I dread on a daily basis.  So one of the things I found is that if I can just knock out the thing that I dread the most, the one I’m really REALLY not looking forward to, the whole day looks better.

It’s a just a bit of the advice that is provided in Getting Things Done. In the book, there are many mentions of that great feeling that comes with getting things off of your shoulders and just shedding that weight. It also talks about how anything you can get done in a couple minutes, you ought to get done right now. I think it’s great advice and that’s one of the things that I’ve taken away and really incorporated into my life.  I’ve noticed that I’ve had less stress and have fewer things on my plate because there are more things that I just knock out right when I think of them because they don’t take that long.

So this is my taking that concept and rolling it up a bit. Now we all know that it is human nature to do things that we enjoy rather than things we don’t, that goes without saying, but I’ve started to take the thing that I least want to do and do it first. By doing this it sort of makes the rest of the day, even if it’s a day full of things that I may be not looking forward to if I can just get the worst one out of the way, feel downhill.  From an approach standpoint, I think it just gets you in a great frame of mind because everything else looks easy from there.  Once you had the conversation over the phone you were dreading having or written that email that you really weren’t looking forward too, the rest of it’s easy from there.  So it’s something that I’ve incorporated into what I do on a daily basis and I think other people get similar results because it’s just sort of a common sense thing.

I’d be curious if anyone else out there has taken an approach similar to this or has a different take on how they tackle their day. I love it when I get to the end of the day and there are a couple of things that are left on my list that I’m really looking forward to doing and I’m able to do them without anything hanging over my head.  Whether its sitting there and doing something creative or some of the other things that I really like getting to do about my job, I really enjoy those a lot more if I don’t have some horrible thing hanging over my head that I know has to get done. It just sucks the fun out of it.  I’d love to get people’s feedback as always.

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.

Online Applications shouldn’t make you pick a favorite child

office space

A few simple questions to avoid this ↑

I’m sure there are a lot of people out there that have experienced system design and lived to tell about it. I had a scrape with it this morning and I thought I’d share because I think it highlights some of the type of thinking that absolutely has to occur with more frequency in both the public and private sector space. I think anytime you are contemplating the delivery of a service you really need to be prepared to answer these three questions convincingly:

  • Have I thought about the big picture?
  • Have I thought about what happens if I’m successful?
  • Have I thought about how people will actually use the system?

I will talk about this and use as context Arlington county Virginia’s registration system.  Arlington county is extraordinarily progressive in its provision of activities and facilities for its residents providing a wide array of programs that are, as I can attest to, extraordinarily popular. So popular in fact that I can rarely get all three of my children into any activities, which brings me to today’s blog.

Have I thought about the big picture?

I think a lot of organizations fail to think long enough about the actual use cases they will face when they implement a system. In Arlington county’s case, the system is clearly designed to help individuals sign up for activities. Unfortunately, this doesn’t help families who have more than one child. In my case, with three kids and only two parents, the inability to sign up more than one child at a time combined with the popularity of the classes and the poor workflow means that we have only once been able to actually have all three of our kids in the same class. Essentially, Arlington makes no provision for the needs of parents with more than one child as a use case.

Have I thought about what happens if I’m successful?

Anybody who has ever built a system or application to automate a process hopes to make a big splash and the same applies in the public sector. Arlington has a parks and recreation program that is absolutely exceptional. The depth and breadth of programs is amazing and the few programs we have been able to get our kids enrolled in have been exceptional. Unfortunately, those are few and far between because the combination of poor workflow and slow system performance have meant we almost never get to put all three of our kids into an activity. This means we either choose which kids we love most and send them or opt out of being able to leverage the capability my tax dollars support. Since this is a registration system, I am guessing that most of the traffic occurs just a few times a year, however I can also guess that Arlington currently pays for the resources and infrastructure supporting this system in a pretty level fashion. This type of requirement is perfect for a cloud based system and in fact, as I clicked through the screens this morning hoping my kids would be able to take swimming lessons together all I could think was: Salesforce…

Have I thought about how people will actually use the system?

One of the most frustrating things a user can experience is having to process multiple repetitive workstreams, i.e to order something more than once I need to move through the same workflow multiple times rather than simply ordering in multiples. This would never happen on an e-commerce site because people vote with their feet. In the public sector it’s a bit more challenging because the profit driver isn’t there forcing the issue. Arlington’s website asks you about special needs every time you fill out the form as a separate step rather than remembering or incorporating it into a user profile, etc. It also forces you to take multiple trips through the very slow queue to sign up for classes. This means my kids end up not getting to use these community services, because by the time I have kid number two signed up all of the slots are gone for kid three. If I could simply sign all three up at once, I’d be able to use the services that people with only one child get to use.

Anyway, I hope I stayed out of rant territory and provided a useful example of the type of thinking that needs to occur when you begin looking at process automation and application development. Nothing I said above requires a lot of technical insight. It simply requires the ability to put yourself in the users shoes before you start writing code and building systems. I’d like to point out again that I love Arlington’s services and for the most part you couldn’t interact with a friendlier or more devoted team, I just wish their technology matched the great service they provide so that even those of us with more than one child can enjoy them. I’m sure that most of you have had an experience similar to mine. I’ve been on teams that have made similar mistakes so I’m not guilt free in that regard. It is very hard to anticipate how users will leverage your technology and sometimes something that should have been obvious sneaks through despite the best efforts of all parties. What are the questions you ask yourself when you get ready to change the way your organization does business? How do you approach business requirements, use cases and scenarios?

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 overenthusiasm trap: Getting in too deep

 

In too deep

I think a lot of people when they get energized or excited about something, like a project or a new opportunity, the tendency is to throw yourself into it with big ideas and plans to overachieve.  While the sentiment is good, sometimes in order to perform to the best of your abilities it’s important to know where the edge is of extraordinary effort and good sense. By this I mean knowing when you are biting off more than you can chew.  There’s a line there that shouldn’t be crossed because oftentimes in trying to achieve too much you overextend yourself. So instead of making sure that you do an incredible job of the bare minimum assigned to you, you fail in trying to do more than was asked.  While the intentions and the enthusiasm are very admirable it doesn’t change the fact that failure to deliver is failure to deliver.

I’m all for taking chances but I’ve been a part of too many projects where you get to where you wanted to at the very beginning and then you set yourself back because you then try to over-deliver.  I think it’s important to be flexible but you really need to be careful when you begin to think about how much extra you can do. You need to think about the risk that doing those extra things will bring you then look at the incremental value vs. the cost of failure.

To put it in perspective, say you have somebody come in and do some work on your house.  They came in, tore some things out, painted, put it all back together and then made it look really nice.  Problem is that they left all the trash in the middle of your living room because they ran out of time and needed to move on to the next thing. You would be upset due to a job not finished and maybe think that those extra touches might not have been worth it.  So before you set out on a path to over deliver something make sure you have thought it out and have a plan because its better to excel at the job given then to give a half finished product with a bunch of added embellishments.  I know that I have been a victim of being overly enthusiastic about a project and biting off more than I can chew.  I’d be curious to know if anyone else has fallen victim to their own enthusiasm and how they were able to rectify the situation?

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.

Top 6 Reasons to attend the Troux Worldwide Conference

I’ll be attending the Troux Worldwide Conference  will be taking place in Austin, Texas on March 19-20.  Focused on managing the connected enterprise and delivering fast results using Troux EPM Solutions, this is a great conference for those who are using or are contemplating using Troux. Below I’ve given my top 6 reasons why you don’t want to miss out on this event:

6) Jumpstart your organization’s enterprise architecture: Technology plays a crucial role in an organizations success and as time goes on its role will only continue to grow.  As such, it is vital to learn how to leverage technology across your organization to the fullest extent.  At the Troux conference you will learn how to avoid the common pitfalls and make your Enterprise architecture a success.

5) Change the way your organization perceives the value that it gets from enterprise architecture– There has been a shift in information technology and enterprise architecture towards portfolio based thinking.  Troux has put forward a solution that keys in on the extraordinary cost saving and efficiencies gained by this portfolio approach.  Learn these techniques from the company that made these ideas a reality.

5)In order to be the best you need to learn from the best-  At the Troux worldwide conference there will be speakers featured from top companies including Microsoft and AstraZeneca presenting tactical real life ways to make your EA what it should be.

3)Learning to market your IT to the business -In today’s economy it is more important than ever to demonstrate reasonable returns on investment in a timely manner. For IT executives, it’s important to identify talking points to showcase the technology investments impact in business focused measurements.  You need to be able to talk in business terms to show the value added from making the leap. You need to be able to succinctly answer the question of how will this new technology support top line growth without putting additional pressures on the bottom line.

2)Discover how to put knowledge gained in action to create real value for your organization- At the conference, Troux customers from around the world will be able to meet and discuss real world case studies. The sharing of ideas, personal experiences, trends, challenges and solutions regarding the strategy and alignment of IT and business will be covered at length.  Combine that with the best practices forums that give practical advice on everything from speaking the language of business to how to track and market your success.

1) Find out what it’s like to live in a post-Troux world– Troux’s Enterprise Portfolio Mangement approach changes the way that businesses make their decisions.  With the use of their solutions you can deliver value fast, reduce costs, mitigate risks and increase overall efficiency in all parts of the organization. Bottom line is everyone wants to get the most out of their IT investments and I truly believe that Troux is the way to do 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.

When to carpe diem

Carpe diem blog

I spend a lot of time talking about discipline and routine. Having a regular approach to how you do business and how you run your life is beneficial to your personal performance and your job performance.  It’s part of this regular approach to continual improvement that gets you to where you want to be over time.  I can’t advocate enough for it. I do think however, that it is important that you recognize when it is of value to break from that routine. Now the question is: what are the things that are important enough for you to make that break? I really believe that discipline and routine are critical to achieving your goals so knowing when to make this break is crucial.  I think that there are three important points to consider when you think about breaking from your routine:

  1. How valuable is the thing that you’re going to be doing in place of your routine? What are the stakes involved? How large is the reward? How big is the risk if you don’t do it? That’s a critical component.
  2. How far out of your routine is this going to carry you?  Is this something that is going to disrupt you for an hour, a day, a week, or a month?  How big it is and how far away from your routine it’s going to carry you, is going to drive how much value you need to get out of it in order for it to be worth dong.
  3. I think the final piece is how likely is the outcome? You want to measure the size of the reward, the degree of effort that it’s going to take to get there, and then you’re going to want to assess how likely it is the benefit is going to occur after you put forth  that effort.

I think those three things give you the informational inputs to be able to make solid decisions around the question of: is this worth breaking out of my routine for? I really think these are important to use on a regular basis because otherwise, everything becomes more important.  Your routine gets dropped down in priority or you never develop a routine because you’re so busy trying to capitalize on the opportunity of the moment rather than being focused on the long term goals. That’s an enormous issue with a lot of people and it’s because they don’t have a framework for how to assess opportunities and they don’t think about how valuable the things are that they do every day.  They count those as less important because they are part of a routine and happen constantly but I think that’s poor reasoning. There’s enormous value in being able to develop that consistency.  So I think that having that decision making framework in place enables you to choose wisely as you go to deviate from your routine.  Anyway I’m curious to hear people’s feedback on this.  There’s a lot of talk about how important it is to seize the day or seize the moment and not nearly enough talk about how important it is to embrace the everyday grind.

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.

Improve your diet, improve your life

Inside Pike Place Market

Feeling good is a big part of executing well and performing at a high level.  One of the things that I’ve found that’s really helped me over the last year is having a much cleaner diet.  I know that this is fairly outside the realm of topics that I usually cover but I believe it to be very important. As I’ve adjusted my diet I’ve seen several benefits:

  • lost weight
  • accomplished several personal goals that I’ve had
  • felt a lot better overall in mind and body
  • It’s helped me to execute on a day to day basis to perform a little bit better

The diet that I’ve been following is called the “Paleo diet” which if you want to read more about it, Mark Sisson has a book called “The Paleo Blueprint,” and a simple web search will turn up thousands upon thousands of resources that are out there.  Essentially, you can eat meat, vegetables, and fruit, but it keeps you off a lot of the processed foods, baked items, grains, and things like that. Even so, there are some weird rules in there like you can eat macadamia nuts to your heart’s content but no peanuts because peanuts are a legume.

Now I don’t intend to debate with anyone the specifics of the diet and to be quite honest, I’m focused more on the how to parts rather than the why.  I’ve heard people debate the why of this food or that food but all I know is I’ve followed it and had great results.  For a long period of time I had followed a pretty strict exercise regime and I think I’ve covered it here and there in my blog. That is just part of keeping an overall level of fitness up to help you sustain through times of stress and sprints at work where you really have to go hard. Being in good physical condition helps you make it through those times.  I had never really put a lot of focus on the diet aspect of that and consequently, I think I was in pretty good physical shape but I was nowhere near as healthy as I could be. I wasn’t eating very well or at least the diet I was eating wasn’t producing a body that was able to sustain through tough times. I never really knew that because I assumed that I was doing everything I could do.  It’s not that I was eating poorly before and I suddenly went from eating a diet of eclairs and sodas to this strict diet. I felt that I was eating pretty clean before but for whatever reason, this diet just works for me and I’ve actually dropped about 50 pounds.  I’m actually a little lighter than I was the last year that I played college athletics and I feel absolutely fantastic.

I think that has contributed a lot to better performance.  I feel better on a day to day basis, my moods are more stable, and I don’t get hungry as often.  For example, one thing that I do almost every day is a pretty big breakfast and if I end up working through lunch, a lot of times I don’t notice it because I feel full. I’m getting a lot of the energy I need from that breakfast and I really do feel great.  It took me about 6 weeks on the diet before I started feeling that way. For the first 6 weeks I was hungry constantly.  I had some real anxiety around the foods I was eating.  I missed things. I really missed sugars. I struggled a lot with not having cream and sugar in my coffee.  Now, I’ve come to a point where my taste has adjusted a little bit. I can really notice sugar in things. Now, if I’m out at a restaurant or if somebody serves something, even if it’s maple sausage, I really notice the sugar in it. My tastes have slowly turned over to where I like a little bit simpler foods and that’s the goal. That’s what makes this diet sustainable.  Anyway I’m curious what other people think about how their own diet affects their overall ability to perform on the job. For me at least, this has been something that has really improved the quality of my life and I certainly encourage anybody and everybody to give this a shot.

 

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.