IT – Does anything ever change?

Around 20 years ago, when struggling to decide if I should shift from a career as a research physicist to a career in IT, I was impressed with the idea that IT changed faster than physics – so I expected a more dynamic, exciting field. What little did I know!

In 1973 my father was editor of the world’s first IT magazine, and he wrote an article entitled “To rollout successful systems, first debug the people problem.”  I’m still trying to find a copy to post. It was all about management of change when introducing new IT systems, and the article is 100% valid today.

A few years later in 1975 an IBM engineer, Fred Brooks, wrote a fabulous book entitled “The Mythical Man Month” containing his wisdom and advice for software engineering projects:

After nearly 45 years, hardly any of the most important core principles has changed. The author himself writes in his newest addition:

In preparing my update, I was struck by how few of the propositions have been critiqued, proven, or disproven by ongoing software research and experience.

So I guess IT has the best of both worlds: new technologies are cool (I was impressed how my Apple MacBook actually logged into my FitBit scale – not the other way around!), new methodologies are exciting (even Agile is now ancient!), but just like in physics, the core principles don’t change.


The Mythical Man Month

I rarely do book reviews, but in this case I couldn’t help.

Back in 1975 I was 10 years old, and an IBM engineer, Fred Brooks, wrote a fabulous book entitled “The Mythical Man Month” containing his wisdom and advice for software engineering projects:

The title of the book comes from an important observation he made about software engineering: if you add more people to a late software project, you’re like to make it even later!  But in addition there fabulous observations about other topics, like prototyping, the different between software development for projects and software development for products, and the like.

It’s just amazing: after nearly 45 years, hardly any of the most important core principles has changed. The author himself writes in his newest addition:

In preparing my update, I was struck by how few of the propositions have been critiqued, proven, or disproven by ongoing software research and experience.

Thomas Friedman may have missed the point

This is Thomas Friedman:

He’s famous to older people for being the first reporter to cover some atrocities in the Middle East. And his book From Beirut to Jerusalem is in my view required reading before anyone can have a conversation on Middle Eastern topics.

But today he more famous to the younger IT crowd for his book The World is Flat.


In that book, he makes the argument that the modern Intranet has flattened the world, permitting the development of truly global supply chains.

Because the subtitle of his book is “A brief history of the 21st century” he is not strictly wrong. But unfortunately, he never points out the far deeper, far older truth that truly global delivery in fact dates back thousands of years!

In their book Global Management in the 21st Century the authors begin by a humbling story that shows, at its core, nothing much has changed in over 5000 years:

“There is evidence of extensive trade between nations as early as 3000 BC.  Some 2000 years ago Herod build the port of Caesarea Maritima. This served as a major east-west trade route with Byzantium and Rome, which were as much as 60 days away by sail. The harbor handled local products like wine, flax, and grain, as well as exotic products like silk and spices, that were brought to the port from Asia by caravan. Imagine the management challenges associated with coordinating shipping schedules with the arrival of products from Asia and the purchase of local products.”

Still more anecdotes explain the challenges of global delivery and multi-cultural teams – efficiently and expertly solved, with a high degree of goal-orientation, but literally thousands of years ago!

So while Thomas made a good observation about the Internet and the flattening of the world, in fact so many of the global delivery challenges the IT community faces today are the same challenges humans faced thousands of years ago.  And the real question is perhaps not what as the Internet enabled, but rather . . . what has the modern nation-state approach led us to forget?

Global Management in the 21st Century

I almost never do book reviews in my blog.

But a business colleague recently asked me for what I thought was the best book on global management and delivery.

The good news: Mendenhall, Punnett and Ricks wrote a 719-page academic tome that is much broader, deeper, and insightful than any other book I’ve seen on the topic.

The bad news: it is out-of-print and almost impossible to obtain – and I will never part with my worn, dog-eared copy!

I do not believe you can ask a question or have an inquiry on any topic that is not addressed to a deep level of detail in this book.  It contains hundreds of references.

I can only whet your appetite with the Table of Contents:

I – Global Picture – Understanding the international management environment

1. Overview

2. Global mgmt in the context of politics

3. The cultural environment

4. International labor relations

5. The global ethical environment

II – International strategic management and operations

6. Global strategy overview

7. Foreign entry decision

8. Implementing foreign entry decisions

9. Adapting management to foreign environments

10. Managing operations globally

11. Organizing and control in global organizations

III – Executing international decisions through staffing and directing

12. Human resource selection

13. Training for international assignments

14. Managing the expatriate manager

15. Special issues for global firms: women and dual-career couples

16. Communication and negotiation in global management

17. Leadership and motivation in global context

Appendix A – Careers in international business

Appendix B – Experiential exercises

Appendix C – Case studies

Valuable resource for IT project managers

I rarely use my blog to give reviews, but in this case I can’t resist. A long time colleague from our HP days and still a very good friend of mine, Mario Neumann, has used his passions for training, leadership, and project management to create some very valuable and very high quality resources: his website, his books, his podcasts, his trainings, and especially, his project management application.

Here’s a screenshot of his application:

And here’s a screenshot of his webpage,

(Yes, you can easily mistake him for Ray Mears!)

But where Mario really shines is in his trainings, which can integrate wide ranging topics such as psychology and human behavior, to present a truly unique approach to management.

Only bad news: because he focusses on the German market, most of his collaterals are only available in the German language. Hopefully that will one day change!


Extreme Ownership: If you’re in IT, it’s more than worth a read

This is an INCREDIBLE book!

There is no shortage of books written by ex-soldiers, trying to apply military tactics to business scenarios.  Probably the best known example is Sun Tzu’s Art of War, which dates back nearly 2000 years.  So I’m not all that eager to post book reviews on my blog about these books – you can find dozens, all very entertaining, but few giving you real tools you can add to your leadership toolbox.

That is, until now.

Recently a friend of mine recommended I read this book:

It’s filled with real-life anecdotes about Navy SEALs in combat situations, mostly with bad outcomes. And in each case, the authors point out that taking something called “extreme ownership” of a project / task / situation is a critical success factor to ensure success. This means owning the project completely: managing upwards, not just downwards – looking left and right – going far beyond the standard RACI matrix if needed – in short, taking every conceivable action to ensure success.

In their own words,



Historical Jewry in Zürich

I just finished reading a fabulous history book by Riccardo Calimani entitled “The Venetian Ghetto: the history of a persecuted community.”  It makes a single reference on a single page to a Jewish community in the Middle Ages in the city where I live, Zürich.  Curious about this neighborhood, I decided to see what I could find.

It seems almost nothing remains of this area of the city, except a single small alley way named Synagogengasse (or Synagog Alley in German)

And a small placque that describes the street I was on (Froschaugasse) was the center of the Jewish community before a series of pograms decimated the community.

Here’s a close-up of the placque:

I have no intention of translating – it’s abominable to think what happened during the Middle Ages and later periods to follow. There’s still so many things about this period of history I just don’t know – but I find it WONDERFUL that with a bit of Internet surfing and an interest in history, you can easily find places like this.

IT Transformation: how the new military and IT are starting to think alike

I was surprised when I saw this recent graphic, posted on a social networking site:

It reminded me at once of a book I just finished reading, but recommend only sparingly: Team of Teams: New rules of engagement for a complex world, by Gen. Stanley McChrystal (ret.). This is his book:

And this is General McChrystal:

If you haven’t heard of him, General McChrystal commanded all of the U.S. Special Forces teams during the 2000’s, and his biggest success is probably the capture of Saddam Hussein.

His book Team of Teams is not a fun-to-read action story of business ideas embellished with special forces military anecdotes; for a good book of that genre, you can try Extreme Ownership: How the Navy SEALs lead and win.

Rather, Team of Teams is a serious academic book that explains in great detail the organizational challenges but also philosophical shift in thinking needed for transforming from the old top-down military hierarchy to a new “agile” approach needed to reach the full potential of elite teams, such as special forces operators.

What I especially like about the book is that it goes into quite some depth, not just about the organizational concept but more importantly, about how to overcome the challenges to get there.