5 Feb 2018

The challenges of synchronous communication

I have been advocating for and helping clients with the use of written decision records in contentious areas of decision making. However, it is a big change for people who prefer to discuss things verbally over a meeting (face to face or over a call). They claim that it is easy to misunderstand intent over a written medium and that doing it in writing would slow things down.

The book weighed in on this topic in the chapter on communications. An excerpt:
"However, the discussions leading to these decisions are often flawed when conducted verbally. This is due to various factors:
• Glib tongues talking others down.
• Relative seniors intimidating others by tone, impatience, patronizing comments, and nonverbal cues.
• The inability of non-native speakers of English to match the articulation of native speakers. They may lack fluency, vocabulary, or panache in English. Fumbling or pausing mid-sentence for a word or a phrase makes for a weak impression.
• Lack of time to reflect and counter an argument that sounds good superficially but feels flawed intuitively.
• Lack of time to collect one’s thoughts and answer a question effectively.
• Spur-of-the-moment emotional reactions to perceived slights."
Here's a great example of someone challenging your position in a meeting (an interview, in this case). The interviewee here does a great job of keeping his cool and responding precisely and logically to various strawman arguments from the interviewer. However, it is a tough act to follow and most contentious business meetings would end-up with a sub-optimal decision because of a failure to see through flawed arguments.

Spoken arguments require us to get it right the first time in real time. It’s like directly deploying software to production with minimal testing. It may be heroic, and those who pull it off regularly may be really sharp (like the interviewee in the video), but it doesn’t make business sense as a practice. On the other hand, written arguments by their very nature force a modicum of scrutiny and reflection (i.e., testing), even when they say “Sent from my smartphone” at the end.

3 Nov 2017

Taking DevOps to the Org Chart

In order to realize the full potential of DevOps, it is insufficient to only aim for better engineering techniques and greater automation, hard as that may be in itself. One of the implications of DevOps is a merger of development and corresponding operations teams into several build-it-and-run-it teams. This calls for a re-org at the typical tech organization that supports an old-guard business. The re-org is a challenge for large tech organizations that are often split down the middle in the form of a change organization and a run organization.

This talk (closing keynote at DevOpsDays Singapore 2017) explores the challenge and describes how it being addressed at some companies.

29 Sep 2016

KPI gaming

Came across this excellent, in-depth article on the failure of Target Canada. One of the issues was that products were routinely out-of-stock in the stores (leading to upset customers) while registering as in-stock in the company's SAP system:
At one point, Target Canada had printed a weekly flyer in which nearly every single item featured on the front cover was out of stock.
Eventually, they find one of the causes of the problem:
A small group of employees also made an alarming discovery that helped explain why certain items appeared to be in stock at headquarters but were actually missing from stores. Within the chain’s replenishment system was a feature that notified the distribution centres to ship more product when a store runs out. Some of the business analysts responsible for this function, however, were turning it off—purposely. Business analysts (who were young and fresh out of school, remember) were judged based on the percentage of their products that were in stock at any given time, and a low percentage would result in a phone call from a vice-president demanding an explanation. But by flipping the auto-replenishment switch off, the system wouldn’t report an item as out of stock, so the analyst’s numbers would look good on paper.
Chapter 12 of Agile IT Org Design is on metrics. It argues that we have to be very careful of elevating measurements to targets and KPIs. Case in point. 

12 Jul 2016

Bimodal IT and two-speed IT miss the point

We can't trade-off reliability for speed in the medium term. Models that make this assumption are inherently flawed. If you really want to think in terms of a two-pronged approach, think strategic and utility as I describe in my post on business-capability centric orgs. Martin Fowler seconds it.

5 Apr 2016

How Product-Centric IT Disrupts Portfolio Management

One of the key functions of Project Portfolio Management (PPM) in IT is that of allocating finite funds to a subset of projects that vie for funding. When it works well, PPM becomes an effective agent of capital allocation within enterprise IT by funding promising projects and terminating underperforming ones. In principle, this is not very different to how a venture capitalist might manage their portfolio by investing in promising ventures and freezing funding or writing off investments in ventures that don’t show promise. But in practice, PPM tends to work very differently in a typical setup. Read more