Part 2–Integrating the Team

This is going to be another long post.  I’ve had this and other ideas rattling around in my head for several years now, so I have a lot of ground to cover.  If you’re just stopping in, you may want to check out Part 1 of this series and maybe the preamble too.

A while back, I was at a conference and the speaker referred to a management theory put forward by a psychologist named Frederick Herzberg in the 50s and 60s.  His premise (called Two Factory Theory) is that in order to motivate people, an organization must consider both job satisfaction and job dissatisfaction and that the two factors are independent of each other.

In Hezberg’s words:

“The factors that lead to job satisfaction (and motivation) are separate and distinct from the factors that lead to job dissatisfaction.  These two feelings are not opposites of each other.  The opposite of job satisfaction is not job dissatisfaction, but, rather no job satisfaction; and similarly, the opposite of job dissatisfaction is not job satisfaction but no job dissatisfaction.”

As I was sitting in the conference, my mind was blown by this concept.  After doing some more reading, it started to really mesh with my experiences and even some things that I hadn’t even consciously considered. 

I had always believed that the best developers were not the ones that insisted on the highest salaries and that the best administrators and engineers were not the ones looking for the most solid retirement plan or health insurance.  The best folks that I have ever worked with are the ones that are looking for more than just a salary, a title, a name on a resume. 

So, if Herzberg was right (you already know my answer to that), then an organization must consider the following important factors:

  1. How Can We Eliminate Job Dissatisfaction? 
    I think of these things as extrinsic factors.  Things like management style, company culture, amount of self determination, status etc.  I don’t believe that there is a single utopian ideal of this.  One person’s work paradise could potentially be another person’s nightmare. 

    Certainly some of the factors can just be taken off the table.  Salary is one of them.  If you believe that you can’t afford to pay a competitive salary for technology employees, then you need to re-think your strategy.  I’m not talking about shoveling money out the door, but if technology is a key part of your business, you must pay your people enough to support their families.  If you disregard this advice, you will most definitely make up the difference paying for turnover.

    Think about your culture and how it might affect technology employees.  Is it conducive to this type of work?  Can your people have silence when they need it?  Can they meet together when they need to?  Do they have the tools they need to be as effective as they possibly can be?  It is the job of the team’s leader/manager/chieftain to facilitate, enable and block for the team as needed.  They will see every day how hard you are working for them and how committed you are to making them succeed and will absolutely reciprocate.

  2. How Can We Maximize Job Satisfaction?
    What does a technology worker consider satisfying?  I read a very funny (funny because it’s true) post titled “How to Keep Crappy Programmers”.  Most of the points he makes are extrinsic factors, but the last one is Make Them Build Crappy Software.  Wanting to build something they can be proud of is a very intrinsic motivation; one that is shared by every single technology employee I have ever worked with. 

    Technology people want to build great systems.  Why would you invest so much in them and then task them with anything less?  From a hard-boiled ROI standpoint, it makes no sense whatsoever.  (For the record, so do the following:  not buying them decent equipment, not giving them at least dual monitors, and filtering their internet access.)

  3. How Much Value Does the Team Produce?
    A technology team costs a business a certain amount of money.  Think of it monthly, annually, or whatever.  You need to know what that number is at all times.  Make sure you factor in salaries, benefits, capital and operating expenses relating to all of the things we’ve talked about so far.  (Those second monitors aren’t free, you know.) 

    Armed with that number, you must insure that whatever your team is working on produces more than that amount of value somewhere in the chain.  Either reducing costs through efficiencies or directly increasing revenues, you can take your pick, but if you fail at this point, it won’t matter how great of a team you put together or how well you motivated them.

I hope this has given you some food for thought and I look forward to your comments.  Next up, we’ll discuss Strategy and Support of your team.

Will Provide Technology Leadership for Food

The irony of the timing of my last post followed by this one is not lost on me.  When I wrote that ebook and posted it I had a great team of technology professionals, a job that I liked a whole lot, and a pretty good idea of what the future was going to look like.  Now, not so much. 

I won’t go into the gory details, they are easy enough to find on the Interwebs (just search for Sommet Group and try not to cry).  I do, however want to say a few words about the folks I have been fortunate enough to associate with for the last four and a half years.  The team that we assembled is hands down the best group of developers I have ever been around.  The infrastructure team was solid and dependable.  I could throw anything at them and they would just take care of it.  I am a better person for having worked with them.

It wasn’t just the teams that I was personally involved with, either.  My colleague and good friend Steve Lacey’s team of analysts and quality control people were constantly surprising and impressing me with their dedication and hard work.  Steve himself helped me to grow in ways I’m sure even he can’t comprehend.  I will miss our daily association.

So I find myself in the job market unexpectedly.  I know that this very thing has happened to thousands over the past two years, and I have certainly been sympathetic in an abstract way for those affected.  But nothing really can prepare you for the feeling of free-fall that comes with suddenly having that part of your identity taken away. 

I have been very fortunate over the years.  More often than not, interesting job opportunities have found me.  I can barely remember the last time I was out actively job hunting.  I am optimistic, though.  I have a wonderful, caring network of friends and colleagues who have poured out their support and well-wishes for both me and the teams that I led.  I thank you all.

Now, onward and upward.

What Bothers You about Technology?

I am UTTERLY immersed in technology.  I love it.  I use technology for my job, my finances, and now even reading.  It’s amazingly useful to me.  I am, however, painfully aware that technology is FAR from perfect.  I experience the pains and frustrations of getting some device or program to behave just like anyone else does.

I spent several maddening hours the other day trying to get a firewall to do what I wanted.  Unsuccessfully, even!  I have been working on firewalls for longer than I want to admit, and I couldn’t make this stupid thing act right. 

This exercise got me to thinking about all the folks out there that are dependent on technology for their businesses and even their lives who have to struggle with this sort of thing on a daily basis.  What is your biggest pain point around technology?  If I could give you magic computer pixie dust and solve your greatest problem, what would it be?

I am very interested in hearing what you have to say.  Post in the comments or email me at dave.purdon [at] gmail dot com. 

Downside of a Geeky Upbringing

I am a chubby computer geek.  No, seriously, I love food (which has lead to my marshmallowy midsection) and I love technology and sci-fi and reading and host of other things which lead to my junior high ostracism and labeling as a geek.  Being a chubby computer geek does not (in my case anyway) lead to a great deal of team sport.  Or any sport.  Or really anything that involves breaking out in a sweat.

(This guy was Brad Pitt compared to how I was.)

I realize now that may have been a liability for me, even along the uber-nerd path that I have followed in life.  I wonder if I had participated in any kind of team anything, would it have taken me as long to have this realization.  It’s embarrassingly obvious when you think about it, but it took me years to really get it.  The realization is this:  Not only is it IMPOSSIBLE to do everything yourself, it is no FUN either.

A good team of technology people is an absolute joy to work in.  A good team is orders of magnitude more productive than an average team (as is a good developer, according to Steve McConnell).  For productivity, for morale, for ROI on those salary dollars (you know they ain’t cheap), every business should be striving to make their technology teams the best they can be.

So how is that done?  A few thoughts:

  1. Communication – If you don’t have communication, you don’t have a team.  It’s that simple.  How can more than one human being work towards, or even agree on, a single goal without communicating.  Once again, I feel like Captain Obvious saying things like this, but it seems that communication is one of the hardest things for teams to get right.  I’m saying words and they are saying words, but we never seem to get in sync.  Not getting this right will kill a team in a hurry.
  2. Trust – This one is a little trickier.  Volumes have been written on the topic, but what can I actively tell you to do to build trust?  Be trustworthy?  It’s a true answer, but it’s fuzzy.  How about, don’t undermine trust?  Maybe that’s a better angle on it.  When you want to say something you think is witty at the expense of someone on your team or their work, just don’t.  It’s harder to build bridges than to build walls, but it’s essential that everyone commit to it.
  3. Value – You could use a word here like “results”.  Or “outcomes”, or even “shipping”.  What I mean is the thing that your team has to get done.  The reason why the business is giving the team money.  Whether it’s delivering a web site to a client, a working Exchange implementation to the company, or that new feature your accounting department has been waiting for, the team MUST be focused on the results of the labor at LEAST as much as on the labor itself.  Value for the end-user should never be far from any team member’s mind.

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Free Tools Friday 8

We recently had a local company come in and talk to our development team about Kanban and Lean Software Development.  Their product is called LeanKit and the 5 Users/1 Board version is completely free.  You can register, log in, and have your board set up in about 3 minutes.  I love the interface and how simply they have executed the system.  Anyone who’s managing projects with a small team should definitely check this out.

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The tool is pretty sweet, but I was equally interested in their explanation of the principles of Lean/Kanban.  Two of the “pillars” of this way of thinking are Delivering Customer Value and Continuous Improvement (maybe you’ve heard the term kaizen).  Anyone who’s ever ready this blog knows that I’m all about both of those things.  I’m really excited to learn more about all of this and see how it plays out in the real world.  I’ll keep you posted.

Thanksgiving. Giving Thanks. Being Grateful.

I love this holiday.  It is by far my favorite holiday of the year.  I have so much to be grateful for that I consider myself one of the luckiest of men.  From my funny, intelligent, radiantly beautiful wife to my three wonderful kids to the job that I absolutely love, I recognize my good fortune.  Someday I will blog about gratitude as one of the keys to happiness.  (I know this isn’t very techie and has nothing to do with business, but hey, it’s my blog…)

The other side of my affinity for this holiday is the food.  I love to cook this meal.  I love to share it with my family and friends.  I love to show my gratitude for them by providing not just a meal, but an experience.  Some of you may know that I have a food blog and today I’ll be posting my menu with recipes and pictures from years past.  Have a great Thanksgiving!

Great Career Advice from a Microsoft Dude

Today I came across a great series of screencasts by Brian H. Prince called “Driving Your Career”.  I went through the 20 or so short episodes and was very impressed with the things he had to say.  It seems mainly geared towards developer types, but I think anyone in technology would benefit from listening. 

One of the recurring themes in these segments is that technology folks are different than “humans”.  For example in Episode 14 “How to Communicate with Humans”, he shows a picture of some aliens from Star Trek: The Next Generation (they were Binars, actually) and says “This is what you look like to humans”.  That and what he says subsequent to that really makes sense to me.  We in the industry are very often so far out of touch with what the average user’s experience is, that we might as well be aliens. 

I always use the analogy of an auto mechanic.  I don’t understand really anything about the inner workings of a car, and yet I have to depend on it to get me where I need to go.  If something goes wrong with it, I have to rely on someone who knows a whole world of jargon and parts and systems that I have no clue about.  The people who use our technology are dependent on us to an even higher degree.  Technology is far more than transportation, for many users it enables them to earn their livelihood. 

The point is, make sure that you are managing your career with the end user in mind.

Fire Your Model. Seriously, Your Model Is Ugly.

There are lots of ways that you can pay for technology support.  One of the most common that I come across in small business is the “Break/Fix” model.  Something goes wrong, a printer dies, you can’t get to twitter, whatever, so you call your IT providers and they come and (hopefully) fix it.  They invoice you and then you pay them.  Simple, right?  Of course not!

I have to make a confession here.  I used that system to bill my clients for years.  I feel like I gave excellent support to those customers and that they got a ton of return on the investments that they made with me.  The problem, though, is that under this business model, I never even THOUGHT about many of the basic proactive things that can and should be done on any network.

Let me give you an example.  Let’s say that you called my younger (thinner) self and asked me to come and fix your printer.  I would show up promptly, ask about your spouse, kids, etc while fixing the printer.  I would ask around the office to see if anyone else had any issues, have you test the printer yourself to make sure it was fixed, and then bid you all a fond farewell.  There may have even been doughnuts delivered (I didn’t get this waistline by eating carrots.). 

You may be thinking, what’s wrong with that?  I would kill for the timely service with a smile you describe here. (Seriously, I am really good at my job.)  I have always worked to provide the best service possible to my customers, not only because I care about helping them be successful but also because it makes the best business sense.  It took me several years to realize the inherent dilemma with this model.  The problem is this:  there is a financial PUNISHMENT for the provider for doing the best job possible. 

I submit that without a pricing model that aligns the customer’s and the provider’s FINANCIAL interests, true partnership can’t happen.  A model that makes it just as important to me, the provider, as it is to you, the business that there be as few interruptions to business as possible.  I submit that a fixed rate model forces the provider to be more efficient (and organized!) and allows the business to have predictable costs.

Clearly, some IT support companies are not going to be willing to do business this way.  We can’t make enough to stay in business this way, they will cry.  I’m here to tell you that if you are managing the relationship with your customers properly and are truly looking out for their best interest, they will be willing – dare I say, even happy -  to pay what you need to keep you around.

Not a Happy Day for OCS 2007

Today was one of those days that make me wonder why I work in this industry.  Seriously, when crap breaks people get pissed at you.  When things are working, they want to know why the system isn’t faster.  It’s like being a plumber or something.

Yesterday was “Patch Tuesday”, so called because that’s the day the Microsoft releases updates for its products.  I am sure that they try as hard as they can to make sure there are no problems with the updates that go out.  Every once in a while, though, something goes wrong.  Today was one of those times.

We use Office Communications Server 2007 R2 for internal IM, web conferencing and remote desktop support.  We rolled it out only a few weeks ago, but our employees loved it and have come to rely on it a great deal.  So as soon as update KB974571 installed on my server, all of a sudden I started getting errors in the Event Log that looked like:

Event source: OCS Server
Event id: 12290
Event text: The evaluation period for Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007 R2 has expired. Please upgrade from the evaluation version to the full released version of the product.

That plus no one could log in because the Front-End service kept dying after trying to start it.  At the time though, I had no idea what was causing it.  I KNEW I hadn’t installed an Eval copy of the software, so I had no clue as to what was going on.  I only figured out that the patch was the culprit AFTER I spent most of the day doing a rain dance to try and fix the thing for my users.

Of course, a dear co-worker of mine pointed out:  Twitter knew about it last night.  I hate computers.

Total Service FAILURE

I had an experience today that I can’t seem to stop thinking about.  I was consulting with a client that has been using some technology contractors to take care of both their infrastructure and desktop support.  Basically these contractors are responsible for ALL of this business’ technology needs.  There were more than one and they worked exclusively for this one business, meaning they spent ALL of their time with this one client.  It may seem to you like I’m belaboring the obvious, but I just want you to understand what the lay of the land is in this situation. 

After listening for a half hour or so to a few of the full time employees of this company relate their perceptions of how they were being served, I more or less went through the stages of grief right there.  Denial – surely the situation could not be that bad, Pain – listening to this is causing me physical pain, Anger – this is just NOT RIGHT, Depression – it’s probably even worse than they are saying, Reconstruction/Hope – we can work through this and look like heroes with even a minimal amount of effort.

What it boiled down to was that these guys couldn’t be bothered to document anything, think proactively, or even be COURTEOUS to their users.  AT ONE CLIENT!!  The management feels like these guys have a gun to their head (in a way they do) and they’re riding that pony til it drops.  I’m still in awe.

I won’t subject you further to the sordid details, but I would like to make a few statements to anyone out there who works in the IT industry (technology consultants should pay especially close attention).

  1. If you are not listening to your customer at LEAST as much as you talk, YOU FAIL!
  2. If you are working on a network that costs more than your house yet has less documentation than something you’d buy at the Cracker Barrel gift shop, YOU FAIL!
  3. If Your customers EVER say (or even think) something like “We’d rather put up with the issue than deal with IT to try and fix it”, YOU FAIL!
    I’ve been pondering the whole “service” thing for a long time now.  At the first part of my career, I always thought that the MOST important thing was the technology.  More knowledge, more technical ability will make me more valuable to my company and my customers.  I imagine that many who work in my industry think this way.  The more I work, however, the more I realize that no one cares how much you know if they think you are a jackass.  You have a severely limited ability to contribute to the organization if you can’t communicate with them.

I am not trying to be inflammatory, but I have come to know that the following statement is true:

People skills are every bit as important in today’s technology industry as technical skills"

They may even be MORE important than tech skills.  Over and over again as I work in technology I have seen less skilled technicians make more money, be promoted sooner, and generally be more successful than their more skilled counterparts on the basis of their communication skills, business awareness and plain old fashioned courtesy.

 

More to follow on this topic.

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