The power people’s personalities provide!

Continuing the series, the following link was sent to me by my good friend Ertan yesterday, and I found it too good to resist.

The power people’s personalities provide – gosh that sounds nice and a way to reap important benefits!

But in fact the title of the website sounds negative and an approach for solving a problem: How to deal with difficult people.

Be that as it may, this website gives a nice overview of different personality types, and you can click on the personality type and you’ll find useful advice about how to work with people with that type.

It’s nothing new, of course – I just don’t know when it begun. The earliest such approach in my recollection was a terrific book from 2001 by J. Hank Rainwater entitled “Herding Cats: A primer for programmers who lead programmers.” You can find a PDF version on the Internet if you look hard enough. Surprisingly, I discovered it at exactly the right time, when I was new in the role of IT project manager and struggling with my first real project.

And it was followed by a wonderful chapter in a book by Patrick Schmid entitled Turbo Turbo Projektmanagement: Mit einfachen Mittel schneller zum Projekterfolg.”

And this in turn was followed by a less complete but – without doubt – much more useful approach by my ex-colleague and good friend Mario Neumann in his book Projekt-Safari.

Thanks, Ertan, great catch!

One of my favorite projects – 6 – Servant Leadership

Continuing the series, as part of a large IT transformation that I helped drive, it was necessary for us to hire 20+ talented IT professionals. And add to that around 30 mostly Indian colleagues that were to join us to run the Transition and Transformation (T&T) program. And add to that at least two other large IT teams we wanted to consolidate. And because we had so many people, it was necessary for us to locate and rent a building dedicated to IT. So I had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take off my IT transformation hat and put on my facilities management hat.

This blog series recollects a bit of the journey before too much time passes and I forget some of the more interesting details.

Servant Leadership

If there is a message in this blog post, I don’t want it to remain hidden: it’s all about Servant Leadership. A job needs doing, and you are responsible for getting it done. Sometimes the best approach is to step back, lay the ingredients for success, then rely on motivation and coaching to let things fall into place.

Park your prejudices!

I’ve mentioned in earlier blogs that I had the pleasure of driving this project together with Christian Neuenschwander, the IT Manager’s IT Manager. If you give Christian a paperclip and a battery, he can probably build a network router.

Anyway, while chatting about this challenge I asked Christian what he thought would be our biggest challenge in this whole program. He just laughed at me and said without skipping a beat: putting together the desks and equipping them with the needed IT and power cables.

This is where my prejudices kicked in. I’d never done a project of this type, but surely putting together the desks and stringing them up with cables would be the easy part?  But this is also where my charburned fingertips and painful, bitter experiences came in: I knew Christian – I trusted Christian- and even if what he told me sounded like pure rubbish to my ears – which it did – I still decided to trust him.

Glad I did – Christian was right!

The challenge

Thankfully, we did not need to install the desks ourselves. I think I ordered nearly 75 desks, and they were delivered by a big team. They looked like this when they came in:

(Sadly, we did not have the money for height adjustable desks. That really upset many people, but it would have required a larger investment than we had in our budget.)

The delivery team took a factory line approach, so the assembly work was very structured and organized:

Finally, after assembling all the desks in the right places, the crew departed and it looked like this:

These guys were smart smart smart: although I ordered everything at the same time, the desk chairs were not even delivered until the desks were set up.  Picking the chairs, by the way, was no easy task. If you don’t know about industrial office chairs, believe me, can be much more complicated than you think, the better models even having specific adjustments because men and women tend to sit a bit differently on them, or with special features such as coat hangers built into the back.

Here is one of many snaps I took at the chair store,

Now came what I realized was indeed the hard part, equipping all these 75 desks with the needed IT and electrical infrastructure!

The solution: Use the Mark Twain / Tom Sawyer design pattern – and turn an awful job into team-building fun!

Christian was brilliant. His solution was to hold a do-it-yourself party. Christian and I would arrive early and get everything ready – but each person was responsible to equip the infrastructure for their desk. And not only that, but according to a very strict set of guidelines and finally quality-control: Christian would personally inspect the work before signing it off.

Here’s what it looked at when the gang got into high gear. First, think about the logistics. We had 75 desks, 2 monitors for each desk – and a keyboard – and a mouse – and a docking station – and a power-strip – and the LAN cables – and a bit of plastic that keeps everything together – that is a tremendous number of monitors and boxes and cables:

There was no other approach than just to use some of the conference rooms as temporary dumps:

The beauty of Christian’s approach is that everyone got involved – everyone. Here is my good friend Ann Duffy, the Senior Vice President of IT Business Applications, who we were lucky enough to recruit away from another company to have her come join us. She had very nearly 100 top IT application managers and eight teams in her global organization, yet here she is, crawling under her own desk and plugging in the cables.

This work was a real team-builder!

 

Job well done

Finally, the reward. After a long, long day I think Christian and I ordered nearly 30 huge pizzas for our hard working crew! Oh, and let’s not forget the beer, I think we bought 15 huge cases of beer, and probably 20 huge containers of Coca-Cola:

A final thought: the psychology of Servant Leadership and just plain hard work

Anyone who knows me knows that I love hard work. I’ve had hard jobs throughout my life, from housepainter to cook to forklift truck driver, where you ache and you sweat and you go home with bandages on your arms and splinters in your fingers.

But not everyone does.

And as I expected, this challenging 12-hour event gave people a chance to show their colors. Don’t get me wrong: everyone contributed above and (far) beyond the call of duty. It was hard work – and Christian and I are thankful for how it worked out. In our extended team of 70 people there was not a single person who did not pull his or her own weight.

Many people came – and worked hard – and ate their pizza – and went home. Job well done!

But . . . like Christian and I there were other hard-work-masochists and true servant leaders that really came to the forefront and stood out, such as our talented Head of IT Infrastructure and Operations Susanne, without whose help it would have even been more challenging for Christian and I. By the way, this was just one pile of boxes. We had about 12 more piles just this size. 75 desks x 2 monitors + keyboards + mice + cables + docking stations = one heck of a mess of boxes!

(There were 3 more “superstars” that also helped out – and I will think back on this fondly – but I am quite sure they don’t want the publicity or for me to show their photos.)

It’s a universal truth I’ve witnessed since my days of painting apartments in 45 C = 105 deg F weather in the hot, un-airconditioned Illinois summer sun: you don’t need to look hard for servant leaders, in fact you don’t need to look for them at all. They just magically show up whenever they see someone struggling or what looks like to be a challenge that needs extra help. (BTW: I’ve “parked” this idea. Sometime, someday, somewhere, I will need to find some servant leaders . . . and by running a large collection of people through a very difficult challenge, I am quite sure the real servant leaders will naturally sink to the bottom – where servant leaders belong – best positioned to help everyone else!)

Here’s Pascal, who is a real Facilities Manager and showed me the ropes of the job and helped me out, we really owned a huge debt to Pascal. As I’ve said in my other blog, Facility Manager is a true trade and profession that doesn’t always get the respect it may deserve:

And here’s Susanne and Christian – and one of 13 piles of boxes. The boxes were easy compared to disposing of all the Styrofoam packing.

Yes, that’s a flat screen TV. We ordered 12 of them, one for each conference room, and two on portable trolleys. We installed the trolleys ourselves but needed professional carpenters and the right brackets for the 10 fixed units.

Disciplined Agile – The Agile Team Lead

Continuing the series, the “Bible” for Disciplined Agile appears to be this book:

As I’ve mentioned earlier, my company has chosen to “go agile” – which is a good thing! But sadly not just at my company but throughout Switzerland – and frustratingly for me – many people continue to confuse agile with Scrum. Or worse, they deal with what I call GOs and IUs: Gross Oversimplifications and Impossible Utopias.

[ Interesting aside: in physics there is a handy phrase that we physicists pull out and use at times like this: assume you have a spherical cow undergoing simple harmonic motion….. Yes, sometimes an over-simplification can be useful as an instructive tool: a large cow may give more milk than a smaller one, and both are likely to produce milk on a daily schedule. But . . . this advice hardly a replacement for everything a dairy farmer needs for success. ]

In fact, I encounter many external consultants throughout Switzerland that claim unless you have a T-Shaped cross-functional team, you are not really doing agile. What utter nonsense!

Disciplined Agile sets things straight!

DA is neither a methodology nor a framework, but rather a big toolbox with the mantra “use what works.”

If you look in the drawer in the toolbox marked “Potential Roles and Responsibilities” this is what you’ll find:

These aren’t by any means required; in fact, the book states quite clearly these are potential roles.

Of all these potential roles, the description of the Agile Team Lead is what I find most impressive.  DA chooses specifically not to use the term Scrum Master – recognizing that there are many agile approaches (Lean, Kanban, to name a few) that do not have sprints or use the Scrum Methodology. Nevertheless, the job description for the Agile Team Lead will look familiar to anyone who’s learned about the Scrum Master’s role:

  • Guides the team through choosing their Agile Way of Work (WoW)
  • Facilitates close collaboration between all roles and functions
  • Ensures the team is fully functional and productive
  • Protects the team from interruptions and external influences
  • Facilitates decision making, but does not make decisions or mandate internal team activity

I’ll stop here . . . you get the idea!

Disciplined Agile

When I hear the term Disciplined Agile, I think of someone punishing Agile – and that makes me happy!

Agile needs a good punishing.

Reason: many companies in Switzerland are now investing strongly in agile (which is good) but like most agile advocates they teach and often attempt to set up Agile with GOs (Gross Oversimplifications) that only apply to IUs (Impossible Utopias).

Many companies in Switzerland also seem to suffer badly from the misconception that Agile = Scrum. This is entirely untrue, and it doesn’t help the situation. I’ve worked in classical waterfall projects that took ultra-agile approaches.

How does DA come in?

DA ist not a framework but rather a toolbox – toolboxes are always nice!

The Essence of Software Engineering – or, why agile is not enough

Sadly, too much literature about agile Ways of Working (WoW) is all about agile Ways of Working – and it stops there.

For Grossly Oversimplified (GO) Impossible Utopia (IU) situations, that works.

But in my own experience, for the real world complexity, agile Ways of Working are only the beginning.

Much, much more is needed for success. As put in the following article: Successful software development teams need to strike a balance between quickly delivering working software systems, satisfying their stakeholders, addressing their risks, and improving their ways of working.

There’s an interesting framework that may help; this is really very interesting and pragmatic stuff:

Don’t let this fool you, however. When I first looked at it, it immediately reminded me of maturity models, such as CMMI. In a maturity model, you can stop at the level that makes sense for you, or even have mixtures of maturity in different areas.

This is not that! As you’ll notice, here’s it’s all about degree of operationalization.

ANNIVERSARY: A digital machete thins out the digital jungle!

I honestly, positively cannot believe it – today marks the 20th anniversary of an article that appeared that described my work at the Max-Planck-Institute in Stuttgart!

I’ve done a lot of things in my life that have made me proud, usually challenges I tackled that worked out well.

But this is one of those whirlwind cases that start out as something innocent and simple but then explode into something you could never, ever possibly predict! In this case, a little software application for my “office buddy” to visualize his scientific data that was subsequently downloaded and used by thousands of scientists!

I have documented the full story about ScanRead and DataScan.

The dark and secret world of Facilities Management – 5

Continuing the series, as part of a large IT transformation that I helped drive, it was necessary for us to hire 20+ talented IT professionals. And add to that around 30 mostly Indian colleagues that were to join us to run the Transition and Transformation (T&T) program. And add to that at least two other large IT teams we wanted to consolidate. And because we had so many people, it was necessary for us to locate and rent a building dedicated to IT. So I had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take off my IT transformation hat and put on my facilities management hat.

This blog series recollects a bit of the journey before too much time passes and I forget some of the more interesting details.

The dark and secret underworld of Facilities Management

I’ve worn a few different hats in my life: cook in a restaurant, forklift truck driver, landscape gardener, and professional house painter to name just a few of the most important ones. So it is not only fun but a privilege when life gives me the chance to establish working relationships with people in varied trades.

And it is even more fun and rewarding when I got to learn a new trade myself, in this case the honorable trade of Building Facilities Management.

And as you will read below, the world of Building Facilities Management has a very pleasant public face, but deep down inside it is really a dark, secret underworld, inhabited by god-like people that can accomplish anything – if you treat us with dignity and respect.

The outside view: the helpfulness gene

Paul Cottingham, one of the finest IT leaders I’ve ever known says time and again that IT hardware people (not the software guys) are all endowed with the helpfulness gene: they’ll go to any lengths to help other people, even at the cost of great self-sacrifice. And if you see the tremendous number of over-time hours they work – and how egregiously they underestimate IT project efforts (sadly incorrect, “it never helps to bring in external help” is their mantra).

And when I put on the Facilities Manager hat and joined this mysterious underworld, I learned quickly that Facilities Managers are endowed with this gene as well.

Because at the end of the day what gives us pride is to see the people working in and visiting our building. Are the desks comfortable? Are the meetings super-productive because the rooms are equipped with exactly the right flipcharts and whiteboards and speakerphones and wide screen televisions and coat racks and wastebaskets? Is the building filled with pleasant look plants that are also easy-to-care for, and are they watered and healthy? Walls clean? Carpets smelling fresh? Nice little mats to wipe your wet shoes on?

And think about what that requires, all those things and much more: flip chart pens and white board pens and someone having made sure there are the right telephone and LAN and power cables right where they need to be. Containers to water the plants.

So – how do we facilities managers make this look so simple?

Facilities Managers are like gods

It’s not wrong to think of us Facilities Managers as gods – hopefully benevolent gods, but gods nevertheless. Because your comfort, your tools, and your very productivity at work is in our hands.

The pride of our trade means we strive to do our best to provide all employees a good level of comfort, no matter how they treat us in return. But for those employees who treat us with dignity and respect, (which sadly is all too few people who do that) we aim to exceed your needs.

The question is, how exactly are we able to do this?

And the answer is, we don’t work alone.

A dark and secret underworld

At the risk of great personal harm, I will now officially spill the secret: Facilities Management is a dark underworld comprised of Facilities Managers – but not just those in your company, but those in all companies!  Our work knows no barriers. If I work for Company X and I have an old desk, and you work for Company Y and need a desk, you just give me a call and it’s done. Because in a few months time I may need a flipchart stand that you have but don’t need. Inter-company exchanges go on like this all the time.

Think about it: the Facilities Manager is likely to inherit many basements if not whole warehouses of old things: desks and shelves and coat racks and lockers. Sure, the new stuff probably has inventory labels, and those labels have numbers, and those numbers are in some spreadsheet in the finance department. But more than likely all that old stuff has been depreciated and written off and forgotten long ago.

I can’t mention any names – although there are many.

I can’t mention any examples – although there are many more.

I can only say that, during my brief time as Facilities Manager I got to meet some really terrific, passionate people who make up this dark and secret underworld. And with their help – and they with mine – we were able to make the people in our buildings content. And for those who treated us kindly, and with honor and respect, we were always able to exceed their expectations.

 

Under the wing

Under the wing of an Airbus A380, that is. In any European airport it would probably be unthinkable, but here I am in a car at the international terminal of the LAX airport in Los Angeles, driving directly underneath the wing.  There was plenty of clearance – but still, things of this nature are not allowed at most European airports.

In a previous job I worked for Swissport, at the time the world’s largest ground handling company that earned its money by tending to airplanes after landing and before take-off.

But what does this post have to do with IT?

Airports are divided into roughly two groups: those that are private and want to make a profit, and those that are public.

The airport at Zurich is a good example of a „normal“ private airport: if you are a company doing business there like Swissport, just ask for what you need (networks, WiFi, offices) – and the airport is more than happy to sell you what you need.

But Los Angeles is more of a public works type of airport. There are regions at the airport that are totally empty of any IT services or even wireless connections. How do you bring in innovate IT solutions when you can‘t connect to an Internet? Our talented IT crew like Rui and Juan always found clever approaches, but they weren‘t always the best approaches. For example, the network connection to our refueling facilities at LAX was accomplished via a satellite connection, but with a bandwidth measured in the high KB/sec.

Long story short: it‘s really a myth to think good IT services can be rolled out to the whole world. Many companies struggle with overcoming challenges that are no fault of their own!

Amazing how time flies

It‘s fair to say I stopped being an employed, practicing physicist in the year 2000, when I left the Max-Plack-Institute for Metals Research and joined Hewlett Packard Consulting & Integration.

According to Google Scholar I have published 45 „things“ that Google records in their list, most of them scientific papers but a few of them other things, such as proceedings of scientific conferences.

Nowadays, even more important than the number of articles that a scientist publishes is often the „citation index“ – or, the number of times another scientist has cited their work.  According to Google Scholar, here‘s what my citation index looks like over time:

The graph shows how many papers written by other scientists cited my work.

If you ask me, it‘s pretty incredible. Even though I have been publishing papers since the mid-1990‘s, and even though I stopped doing scientific research in the year 2000 – it seems the peak of my citations only occurred some years afterwards. There are lots of reasons for that – you have to pick things apart at the level of individual papers and collaborators – but I find it interesting nonetheless: if true more broadly, it means that scientists are not famous for what they do right now, but for what their work will lead to in a few years‘ time!

One of my favorite projects – 4

Continuing the series, as part of a large IT transformation that I helped drive, it was necessary for us to hire 20+ talented IT professionals. And add to that around 30 mostly Indian colleagues that were to join us to run the Transition and Transformation (T&T) program. And add to that at least two other large IT teams we wanted to consolidate. And because we had so many people, it was necessary for us to locate and rent a building dedicated to IT. So I had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take off my IT transformation hat and put on my facilities management hat.

This blog series recollects a bit of the journey before too much time passes and I forget some of the more interesting details.

Ongoing third parties – coffee and drinks

The building we rented had three cafeterias: a large one with a full size refrigerator and a sink and enough place for seven or eight tables; a medium with with a full size refrigerator and a sink and enough space for three tables; and a small one with a half-size refrigerator and a sink and standing-room only.

This means we had a few luxury items to buy: plates and bowls and forks and knives and even miscellaneous things like bottle openers.

And we had a few necessary items to buy: fire extinguishers, first aid kits. It was also on my list to buy a portable, automatic heart defibrillator – but I never got around to it.

Being no expert in this area I really learned a lot from the professionals, especially my colleague Pascal who was a real facilities manager. We decided to explore having coffee, drinks, and even water delivered by an company specialized in this. (Yes, even water, because you get a water dispenser that must be kept current with plastic cups, a filter, plus a bottle to provide carbonated water on demand.)

The coffee service – which we later expanded to include vending machines – was an interesting learning experience for me. Essentially, you sign the contract and all the hardware and service is provided to you by the company. Additionally, someone from the company comes into the building daily to clean the machines and refill them if necessary. You pay the company on a pay-per-consumption basis. It is, quite literally, a plug-and-play service that even from my facilities management perspective could not have been easier.

Maybe pride goes before a fall, but nevertheless when I returned to the building several years later for a going-away celebration I could not help being a bit proud of what the cafeteria was stocked with, as this snap shows:

 

One of my favorite projects – 3

Continuing the series, as part of a large IT transformation that I helped drive, it was necessary for us to hire 20+ talented IT professionals. And add to that around 30 mostly Indian colleagues that were to join us to run the Transition and Transformation (T&T) program. And add to that at least two other large IT teams we wanAnd because we had so many people, it was necessary for us to locate and rent a building dedicated to IT. So I had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take off my IT transformation hat and put on my facilities management hat.

This blog series recollects a bit of the journey before too much time passes and I forget some of the more interesting details.

Ongoing third parties

I’ve worn a few different hats in my life: cook in a restaurant, forklift truck driver, landscape gardener, and professional housepainter to name just a few of the most important ones. So it is not only fun but a privilege when life gives me the chance to establish working relationships with people in varied trades.

One of the most fun people I dealt with was the head of the cleaning service company we contracted. I won’t mention her name here, but anyway she is retired. She was around six-foot five feet tall, and when she first shook my hand she literally crushed it (no kidding, I could not play the banjo that day!). She was from Stuttgart – and I lived many years in Stuttgart – and if you know anything about the passions of the people Schwabia  – and I am saying this because they are great people – then you know that quite probably cleaning is the only topic more important on their scale of life than finance or even religion!

I learned a few things about cleaning.

One thing I learned, the cleaning contract is built around a very specific checklist or work to be done (wipe desk tops with damp cloth, clean outside of refrigerator, complete vacuum of carpet, spot vacuum of carpet for visible dirt, etc.) and how often each step is to be done (daily, weekly, monthly, on demand) and when (e.g. after working hours).

I also learned that after the contract was signed, at least in my case, the cleaning company assigned a dedicated resource to handle our cleaning needs. I hardly ever saw her, because she I don’t think she came to building until around midnight. And I also learned that she took a lot of pride in her work and very often cleaned up even when it was not clearly written in the contract.

I also learned that we had an obligation to provide a rather large room to store the cleaning materials (I never consider this when I did my original planning!). Think about it: vacuum and mop. But you’ll need a huge shelf space for the cleaning products and chemicals, as well as the consumables. Believe me, there are many, many more consumables than you might first think about!

And finally, the little stuff. Like most people, I’ve used toilets all my life, maybe not always exclusively, but usually when I had the chance and the need!  Also living in Asia I became rather proficient at Asian style squat toilets.

But in addition to my role to help drive the IT Transformation, I was as a facilities manager now, the and toilets were my responsibility, and this means all of them, both men’s and women’s (and the shower).

Now here are a few things you might not think about in this snap:

Think a little bit about the consumables. The little white dispenser is for alcohol – this needs to be discussed with the cleaning company, and you’ll need a part in your contract about how often its checked. And the other consumables – and there are more of them than you think: sanitary products, bags, toilet paper, soap, paper for drying your hands, bags to line the towel basket, bags to line the waste basket – and a few more I’ll let you figure out yourself!

And although it’s not shown here, the restrooms contained a spray bottle of a scented fragrance that periodically (few times a day) shot a burst of fresh scent into the room: which scent would you like? How often should it be checked? How often should it spray? Who checks that it sprays and who replaces the little battery when it‘s needed?

These were just a few of the challenges you face when you are a facilities manager!  It’s a bit overwhelming at first, but as time goes on you start to take these things in your stride!

 

One of my favorite projects – 2

Continuing the series, as part of a large IT transformation that I helped drive, it was necessary for us to hire 20+ talented IT professionals. And add to that around 30 mostly Indian colleagues that were to join us to run the Transition and Transformation (T&T) program. And add to that at least two other large IT teams we wanted to co-locate. And because we had so many people, it was necessary for us to locate and rent a building dedicated to IT. So I had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take off my IT transformation hat and put on my facilities management hat.

This blog series recollects a bit of the journey before too much time passes and I forget some of the more interesting details.

Negotiating the lease agreement

No photos here. The negotiations about rent were a nice learning experience for me. At least in this area of Switzerland the value of the building is tied to the rental price, so the owner was absolutely unwilling to lower the rent. However, that does not mean we could not negotiate: we discussed how many months “rent free” we would get. This included not only the building itself, but the parking spaces adjacent to the building. As well as other topics, such as the needed paint, carpets, small cosmetic repairs, upgrades to the kitchen, and the like.

I also thought the negotiations had a somewhat detached and less emotional character than I had expected. The building was in fact owned by a large company that owns buildings, so the passions that I somehow expected after dealing with normal landlords and rental agencies in Europe were not there. As Michael Corleone said, “Nothing personal, it’s strictly business.”

Finally, the terms and conditions (in German: Allgemeine Geschäftsbedingungen): they were straightforward, and the procurement specialists of my company did not insist upon any changes. Probably the whole contract was no more than 15 or 20 pages, tops. What we key for us, however, were the termination clauses and exit conditions, since my company was considering a general consolidation of all offices in Switzerland into a central location.

What was also part of the contract is how and how often the exterior of the building would be cleaned. Most buildings in Switzerland have windows that are covered with louvers, and these get dirty and need to be periodically cleaned.

One-Time Third Parties

There were two categories of third party providers I was involved with: one-time, and ongoing.

The most important one-time third party was an electrical company that I contracted to finalize all the needed power and LAN cable hook-ups.  The building floor was elevated, so this meant snaking the cables to holes located under what would be the future desks.

Here’s a nice snap that shows one of the holes:

This was an interesting experience for me. It was a true learning moment – and if you are new to this business, maybe you can learn from it too?

Together with Christian (see my last blog series) we contacted three different electrical companies in order to get competitive offers. Each of them sent an extremely experienced person for discussions with us and to collect our requirements. This gave me – still very naive in these areas – a pretty good feeling of confidence.

But . . . after we made our selection and the installation crew showed up, it was an entirely different situation!  First, we weren’t sure exactly which language the crew spoke, but it was neither German nor Swiss German nor English nor any other languages we knew!  This is not an exaggeration by any means – we were completely unable to communicate with the crew except by using hand signals. Thankfully, our hand signals for “what the f–k are you doing???” and “get the f–k out of our building” are international in nature and gladly, were immediately understood and acted upon.

Second, even after breaking through the communication barrier, we realized we’d get the best results if we managed them quite closely. Much, much more closely than I wanted to do – but I thought back to the inputs that a real building renovation project manager gave me sometime earlier, and this seemed to confirm to me a close approach was the right one!  If my efforts here would have been greater, than I would have escalated back to the company itself – but when the end is in sight sometimes the direct approach is ultimately the easiest.

Finally, the topic that Americans refer to as “sweat equity,” or saving a lot of money by doing some jobs yourself. We determined we could save an enormous amount of costs by doing a significant chunk of the work ourselves. For it was necessary to snake LAN cables to each of the holes under what would be the desks, and this requires an incredible effort to label the cables. It’s not an effort that requires the experience and training of an electrician, so by doing this ourselves we saved four figures of cost!

Paint and carpet

I did not have any big efforts here, as the painting, minor bugfixing, and carpet installation was contracted by the building owners.

Here you can see a snap after the carpet was laid and the walls were painted:

I did have a bad experience, however, and I hope other people can learn from my mistake. It turns out that whatever combination of carpet, carpet glue, and paint were used, it left an intense smell in the building. Fortunately, the planned move in date was nearly six weeks after this work went done, so I simply opened all the windows and vented the building 24×7, which removed the problem nicely. Nevertheless, after opening, there were a few colleagues that suspected we had a case of “sick building syndrome.” Sadly, it was never easy to verify this claim, since the building itself was located just a few dozen meters from a chemical factory.

Pretty tame so far, but just wait for future blog posts when I tell of the amazing adventures that were in store for me!

 

 

One of my favorite projects – 1

As part of a large IT transformation that I helped drive, it was necessary for us to hire 20+ talented IT professionals. And add to that around 30 mostly Indian colleagues that were to join us to run the Transition and Transformation (T&T) program. And add to that at least two other large IT teams we wanted to consolidate. And because we had nearly 150 mostly IT staff, it was necessary for us to locate and rent a building dedicated to IT.

So I had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and priviledge to take off my IT transformation hat and put on my facilities management hat.

This blog series recollects a bit of the journey before too much time passes and I forget some of the more interesting details.

What not to do

I’ll begin at the beginning with this message: if you are planning to move your staff to a new business location, there are consulting companies that are specialized in helping you move. Sadly, we had no funds to use such a service. But it is something I highly recommend. During my tenure as facilities manager there were many, many, many instances where – purely because of sheer luck – we somehow avoided pitfalls with enormously high costs. The only way to avoid these costs in a planned, risk-managed fashion is to get professional help.

Picking a building

I looked at a few different properties. They were all empty when I saw them, so you really have to use your imagination about what it would look like if your organization was located there. I also relied on architectural blueprints of the floor layout that we transferred to Microsoft Visio and super-imposed with desks and furniture.

Electricity (enough power in the right locations) and IT (the needed IT infrastructure, such as LAN cables) and telephony are also important considerations. Fortunately, I had my good friend and colleague Christian Neuenschwander involved. He is not just a hobbiest in these areas, but in fact he has a professional-level of experience in these topics, as well as being a certified electrican. Had I not had someone of his caliber involved, I would have insisted on using a professional consultant. Why? In Switzerland there is a law which says you can take over any existing electrical infrastructure, no matter what status it’s in. But . . . if you need to make improvements, then you need to bring the entire area up to the most modern version of the building codes. That is a huge financial risk that could easily by six-digits of cost!

This is the location I finally recommended to the team – but I took great pains to ensure buy-in from everyone. At the end, it absolutely needed to be a  team decision.

The building was very light and airy, there were almost two dozen glass-walled conference rooms, there was a air cooling system, and the whole place was located about 50 m from a convenient stop on a public transportation tram line. We had two-and-a-half cafeterias, plenty of power in the right places, a raised floor in which power and network cables ran below, and two network closets. Four restrooms (2 male, 2 female) and a shower. Ample number of parking spaces. And the building was situated around 50 meters from a tram stop frequented every 5 minutes by trams.

The only thing we were a bit worried about what that a selected area of the building had CAT-3 wiring instead of CAT-6, but we felt it was a risk we could take.

We could not have found a better spot!

For successful systems, debug the people problem

In the field of IT you may think things change fast, but the timeless principles really don‘t change at all.

If you don‘t believe me, just read on and I guarantee I can convince you otherwise!

In September of 1974 my father was editor of the world‘s first magazine dedicated to computers. This was long before the days of personal computers and smart phones and cloud computing. He wrote an article that I used as the title for this blog.

I‘ll reprint a few paragraphs here – and I send out a challenge: this article was written 45 years ago, and you tell me if it doesn‘t still apply – word for word – to the IT industry today!

 


For successful systems, debug the people problem

By Charles N. Ritley, September 1974

As executives are discovering that turnkey computer systems can solve their paper problems, they‘re also finding out that a brand new computer can bring with it a new set of problems – people problems – that could diminish the advantages they paid for. Professional systems analysts are aware of people problems that arise with new systems and plan for them. The executive installing his first system will profit by knowing the potential problems and how to cope with them. His reward will be a smooth running system, and good customer and employee relations. Plus, he‘ll get all the computer power he paid for.

Why people?

A system is simply a means of receiving information from one group of people and preparing it for another group. Now matter how sophisticated the hardware becomes or how many jobs it eliminates, a computer system still requires people to create, process, and use the information. Fear of the unknown is one universal problem that can‘t be solved electronically. Your new computer will change job structures; it will take over routine work now being done by people. Your staff is going to wonder how their jobs will change, and wondering and worrying will make them less efficient.


To read the complete article, please click here.

Pause powers performance

A friend of mine is an IT engineer-turned-HR-consultant, and he summed up leadership in a single word:  SEXY:

  • S = Strategy
  • E = Empathy (for others)
  • X = Execution
  • Y = Yourself (know yourself)

My take on this, not his: S and X are up to you – but E and Y are what‘s in you and probably beyond your ability to significantly influence.

I‘m not a big fan of self-help books about leadership, precisely because E and Y are so out-of-reach, but recently a colleague at work put me on to a book written by a friend of hers. This is Kevin Cashman:

And this is his book, The Pause Principle:

In a nutshell, quoted from the book: The Pause Principle is the conscious, intentional process of stepping back, within ourselves and outside of ourselves, to lead forward with greater authenticity, purpose, and contribution. This book focuses on X (Execution) and not one of the SEXY attributes more difficult or impossible to control. In many ways it reminded me of the survivalist Ray Mears‘ advice if you get lost in the woods: don’t panic or take immediate actions but rather sit down, use your bushcraft knife and firesteel to make a fire and brew up a nice cup of pine needle tee; and only then think about what you‘ll do next.

The landscape of milk

I’m currently in a project where I am designing and documenting various IT architectures and landscapes: organizational, applications, infrastructure.

So while in this very “IT landscape frame of mind” I stumbled across this very interesting diagram on Wikipedia,

I think it’s just brilliant!  I’ve always been interested in the vast number of milk products – even more so after living in Eastern Europe and Western Europe and seeing products (such as quark and saline cheese) that are not available in the U.S.

And it is wonderful that someone could classify all the milk products in this way, to create a very colorful and easy-to-understand visual taxonomy.

Is the slashed zero now dead?

Things change, and in the field of Information Science they change faster than most.  A delightful story of change is provided on the homepage of perhaps the world’s most famous computer scientist, Donald Knuth:

A note on email versus e-mail

Newly coined nonce words of English are often spelled with a hyphen, but the hyphen disappears when the words become widely used. For example, people used to write “non-zero” and “soft-ware” instead of “nonzero” and “software”; the same trend has occurred for hundreds of other words. Thus it’s high time for everybody to stop using the archaic spelling “e-mail”. Think of how many keystrokes you will save in your lifetime if you stop now! The form “email” has been well established in England for several years, so I am amazed to see Americans being overly conservative in this regard. (Of course, “email” has been a familiar word in France, Germany, and the Netherlands much longer than in England — but for an entirely different reason.)

I’d like to single out something similar, probably only known to those of us (like me!) whose history of Information Technology and computers pre-dated with the development of computer monitors: the first application I used was on a teletype machine at a laboratory at U.C. Berkeley.

Slashed O

When programmers started programming in the days even before punched cards, zero’s and one’s were so important  – and in those days, numbers were far more important and frequently used than letters. Therefore, programmers and also typesetters most frequently wrote “slashed o” instead of the letter O, in order to distinguish the uncommonly used letter from the very commonly used number.

If you look on Google you can find many examples of this, usually images of very old computer manuals, like this:

 

Slashed Zero

At some point after the introduction of high level computer languages, the letter O became more important than the number zero, so programmers use “slashed 0” instead of the number zero, in order to distinguish the uncommonly used number from the very commonly used letter.

Here is a good example of what that looks like:

 

0 = O: Leave it to the fonts, high resolution displays, and good eyes

Today, it seems rare to see the slashed zero anymore. The computer fonts used in many editors make it very difficult to distinguish between “oh” and “zero” – usually relying on highlighting the entire word or variable when the programmers application developers get it wrong.

I don’t know when the slashed zero fell out of use, but it would be nice if some language scholars have studied and document this before it disappears from human memory.

FYI, most programmers application developers I know not only do not use this convention, but also have never heard of it – so it goes to show you how quickly things change and the past is forgotten!

 

 

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.

Augusta Raurica and User Experience (UX)

User Experience – sometimes referred to as UX – is defined as encompassing all aspects of an end-user’s interaction with e.g. an IT system or, for example, a company, its services, and its products.  And although you might not think about it, museums can provide a wonderful insight into the field of UX.

I’ve recently blogged about a wonderful collection of Roman ruins scattered in the Swiss countryside, Augusta Raurica.

What’s really a nice touch is that many of the walking paths have markers that explain about the history of the site:

The displays are a combination of old ones dating back to just after World War II, and relatively new ones.

Now here comes the truly interesting part.  The older displays are written in both German and French, and they contain extremely dry, extremely boring historical facts, as this example shows.

The newer displays are written in German, French, and English – and they use a very simple type of writing, and they contain topics that are interesting to a wide variety of people, especially including younger audiences:

It makes you stop and think about who designed the original displays and why.  Were people many years ago more literate and interested in boring historical facts?  Or is there simply more attention paid today to the user 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, http://marioneumann.com/

(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!