Wednesday, April 20, 2011


Enterprise Architecture: Crisis as a Best Practice...

In my tenure at The Hartford, I have known of only one enterprise application that has never had an unplanned outage. Sadly, this application was rationalized away...

Let's face it, we live in a culture of perception management and in order to thrive it is best to embrace heroism over engineering. The Architect who flies in and saves the day will in most cultures be rewarded more than the one who is disciplined, doesn't partake in cargo cults and simply does his job through technical excellence and demonstrated ability.

So, I believe it is in the best interest of IT professionals to sometimes not do things right the first time! Increasingly, I believe that even if you had the foresight to prevent an enterprise application from future outages and the potential for lost revenue and otherwise sunk cost that goes with it, you should hang back a little.

Ever notice the behavior of most IT executives when an enterprise application is down for an extended period? While we can't possibly get the right resources or an appropriate budget while building an application, they somehow manage to clear all the hurdles whether it is a stifling governance process, suboptimal IT employees who are in the way or simply allowing architects and developers to practice their craft, we can pull off magic during a crisis.

Code somehow during periods of crisis seem to get written of a higher quality and at half the time than during normal periods. So, how does an enterprise leverage this simple truth? Create a few crisis and take advantage of every failure.

If IT were 100% perfect and had zero outages, someone would immediately start brainstorming ways to tamper with it. After all, perfection isn't a goal and in the minds of many may be a predictor of not enough efficiency. The process weenies love to devise schemes where people are over-utilized and chaos ensues. Many IT shops are efficient but few are effective.

In many corporations I have worked that have embarked on IT outsourcing to India, the end result has been a net reduction in the availability of enterprise applications yet outsourcing continues to thrive. The onshore model involved a few talented individuals working a problem to resolution while outsourcing has brought many best practices where we need to coordinate dozens if not hundreds of people in different timezones and skillsets to resolve a problem.

When things are broken, usually from the ashes a hero emerges where the business is happy for anyone contributing a potential solution no matter how far fetched it may be. Crisis has allowed for IT to acquire many performance testing tools that otherwise would have gotten shot down at budget time. Crisis has also allowed for many more non-technical IT employees to remain employed working on various but otherwise neboulous practices that are under the guise of reducing future events.

More importantly, crisis in many cultures allows for developers to get the opportunity to refactor code. As an Agilist, we know that time and hindsight affords us the opportunity to find better ways of developing working software. Likewise, we know that developers never get to make things better and are constantly working on the next thing. The only thing that allows most waterfall enterprises to be agile is crisis which affords the opportunity to mercilessly refactor...

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Saturday, April 16, 2011


The American educational system can benefit from India Best Practices...

The American educational system is fundamentally busted. One idea that I would like to propose is to send 100,000 elementary and high school teachers to India to learn a few practices that Indian outsourcing firms leverage...

We need to rethink education completely. As it stands, vendors such as Cognizant, Wipro, Virtusa and so on based on sound margins from labor arbitrage found a way to retrain massively people from any career into relevant careers. They have found ways to sell deals to American CIOs without necessarily having the experience.

Independent of any competencies or lack of, they have figured out ways to train people in very cost effective ways. If a CIO wanted 10,000 people to be immediately trained up on the latest version of Java, the Indian firms have figured out how to at least get them to a level of proficiency (this is distinct from mastery) in a way that allows them to hit the deadlines.

While Americans are savagely focused on experience, India is busy giving freshers a chance. Governments and parents pony up dozens of thousands of dollars per child, and students are advised to focus on studying and not working, which has a high opportunity cost. What can we learn from India...

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Monday, April 11, 2011


Myers Briggs: What type of personality are you?

I am what is labeled as an INTJ: - The Scientists...

The long-range thinking and individualistic type. They are especially good at looking at almost anything and figuring out a way of improving it - often with a highly creative and imaginative touch. They are intellectually curious and daring, but might be physically hesitant to try new things.

The Scientists enjoy theoretical work that allows them to use their strong minds and bold creativity. Since they tend to be so abstract and theoretical in their communication they often have a problem communicating their visions to other people and need to learn patience and use concrete examples. Since they are extremely good at concentrating they often have no trouble working alone.

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Saturday, April 09, 2011


Are employee contributions to political action committees a worst practice?

Many large enterprises have practices whereby they contact their employees asking them to contribute to political action committees on an annual basis. Increasingly, pro-business somehow magically morphs into being anti-employee...

How smart can it be for an employee to champion the causes of their employers? Consider the fact that unemployment is at an all time high yet many businesses want congress to raise the amount of H1B Visas that are issued.

Before contributing, should an employer openly declare what it champions that may not be in the best interest of employees before asking them to make a contribution?

What if your employer plans on using your political support to lobby the congress to make it easier to layoff American workers, to reduce unemployment tax burden and to eliminate benefits for retirees? Is your investment towards political action committees a wise investement?

I have not contributed to political action committees in the past solely for the reason that I think that there is about a dime's worth of difference between modern Democrats and Republicans and have championed alternative approaches to government. With that being said, I too remain blissfully ignorant to whether if I made the decision to contribute will I have been rewarded or penalized...

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Thursday, April 07, 2011


The return of boutique consultancies...

Over the past several years, being an independent consultant meant panhandling for decent pay where the only alternative was to become an employee or a larger organization. The marketplace is now observing a return to its historical roots which means a better value proposition for those who want true specialized consulting over generalist firms attempting to sell the kitchen sink...

Clients are now starting to realize that there is no such thing as one-stop shopping and that a strategy of using best of breed is actually more cost effective even when the parts individually may cost more.

I have observed many people departing the larger firms as they shift their focus away from management consulting towards more commodity offerings in an attempt to drive extreme revenue growth to a value proposition that I believe actually offers better value for clients who are savvy enough to consider startup firms over those with established brands. Unlike their larger counterparts, these small one to five person consultancies seem to be more principled in their approach to growing the business. Some of the common values adopted by smaller firms and missing from the larger include:

1. Do not promise what you cannot deliver

2. Do not overextend your resources and get a reputation for poor performance.

3. Do not tell the customer what he or she wants to hear. Tell them what they need to know. They will respect you for it.

4. Network constantly on professional sites such as Linked In. Hit the "Answers" feature and accumulate an "Expert" rating from your peers in your field. This allows buyers to not blindly trust that they will get the right resource but be certain in advance.

5. Blog like there is no tomorrow. A blog is quite different than a web site. Provide good, solid information free of charge and use blog searches for synergistic businesses to team with. Teaming is an absolute necessity these days.

6. Be prepared to provide information, samples and valuable service gratis as a marketing tool. Introduce yourself and then immediately engage the client with your presentation tools available to bring your expertise to whatever topic they are interested in. Let them take you where they want to go with their concerns and their needs. Apply your presentation tools and expertise dynamically on the fly in a sincere manner to those concerns and needs and you will be in demand for follow up business.

7. Quote and bill what the client can afford and grow with him (in content and resources).

8. Be dedicated to working yourself out of a job with a specific customer and having your client take over by training him. He will remember you and recommend you to 10 others.

9. Remember growth is a function of persistence and foresight. Know where your market is headed and get their first - then write and speak about your success indirectly by helping others. Demonstrate humility and a satisfaction in helping others succeed. They will find ways to give you credit. There are ways of tooting your horn without making peoples' lights go out.

10. Word of mouth advertising from pleased clients is a sure ticket to success.

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Wednesday, April 06, 2011


Enterprise Architecture: Meeting Best Practices

In conversations with many IT professionals, I find that their Outlook calendars look more like Tetris than anything that makes sense...

Let's face it, the engineering discipline within IT has gone the way of the dinosaur and has been replaced with architects, executives and project managers who are masters at being short-form conversationalists. With that being said, the notion that IT has a communications problem is both true and false at the same time.

Whether everyone in IT understands the mission and the challenges of communicating in a global economy will continue to be elusive to most shops. However, there is a bigger challenge that is less frequently discussed.

So, lets pretend that I am a CTO for a Fortune 100 enterprise and my calendar is 80% filled with meetings. Isn't it reasonable to think that I should spend 80% of my time talking with workers that report to me? I think the answer is unequivocally yes but the challenge is when we think of this time as "meeting" time, we are automatically compromising a precious resource.

I do think there is a difference in spending 80% of your time with people that report to you vs spending 80% of your time with other than your own workers. The later is more indicative of a busted culture where time is spent in meetings with clients, project stakeholders and other external entities. In this model, the manager becomes more of an information conduit by which they shuttle what they have learned from partner organizations to those below them.

The premise is that the hierarchy lines on the organization chart are also the only communication conduit. Information can only flow along those lines. It is vital that enterprises separate out the paths of authority from the paths of communication.

Effective enterprises have eliminated all forms of narrow band communications by encouraging broadband thinking. When communication happens only over the hierarchy lines, that's a priori evidence that leadership management are trying to hold on to all control. This is not only inefficient but an insult to the people underneath.

So, don't complain about meetings and having too many of them. The key is to figure out their purpose. On the chance you haven't figured out that movements such as Facebook and Twitter are breaking down communication barriers in the outside world and that you should do this to yourself inside, you only are causing harm to not only yourself but your organization by attempting to control the message via meetings.

My go forward thinking in this regard can be summed up in three powerful words: Hyperlinks subvert Hierarchy...

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Consulting 101: Values over Profit

At various times in my career, I have provided consulting services. At no time, have I been solely focused on driving revenue numbers higher and have stood for more than just profit...

Accenture has one of the best stories that is never told. They care not only about growing revenue but also their local community in which their consultants work. For example, I had the opportunity to observe Accenture consultants who live in cities such as Chicago, Atlanta and Cincinnati contribute time after hours to a charity in my hometown known as FoodShare whose goal is to help provide food to the poor. The consultants didn't just do this as a bottoms-up idea but this was actively encouraged and supported by various partners.

Cognizant also did something very special. They provided sponsorship for tickets to inner-city youth to attend a minor league baseball game. They also support the local Boys and Girls club through after hours volunteer efforts.

So, while I know of the great human stories of Accenture and Cognizant, I do seek to hear of equivalents from Wipro, Infosys, TCS and Virtusa. If you know of human stories of contributions from these firms that are concentrated in the Hartford Connecticut area in the last six months, please do not hesitate to share. I would like for the world to know that there are people out there that care about their communities and aren't just big faceless corporations are are savage in making a profit while ignoring their role in society...

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Tuesday, April 05, 2011


Abusive Employee Relationships

In my travels, I have observed many different forms of racism and bigotry but none so sinister as what I have observed in terms of outsourcing. Corporate HR rules requires people to be cordial so much of the horrific practices aren't verbalized.

Most recently, I observed a person of Indian descent being abused by an American who was senior to this individual. While I probably did a horrific job of providing feedback to this abusive American, it was made clear that I had no interest in any rationalization he could provide. What I struggled to understand with the employee being abused was the fact that he tolerated the abuse and simply decided to let it go so as to not make waves.

I often ask myself how often does this occur and was this just a one-time event? Sadly, I know the answer to this question as I have observed it on more than one occasion. What becomes especially challenging is to report a situation to human resources especially when the abuser is viewed as a proverbial rockstar in the culture. Most human resource departments make it relatively easy to report challenges with regular employees but seek to defend their top performers.

As a person who cares immensely about the human condition and wants the best for all people regardless of their gender or ethnic origin, I have struggled to understand the below questions and hope that others will be able to provide insight:

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Monday, April 04, 2011


Thoughts on Enterprise IT Projects and Aggressive Schedules (Part Two)

Increasingly, in cultures that encourage aggressive schedules become inclined to pass out blame at the lowest-level workers vs. take accountability for suboptimal planning...

I have yet to visit a Fortune enterprise where infrastructure team isn't getting beat up for wanting to follow a disciplined process. Production is king and operations teams need to follow more rigorous processes while avoiding shortcuts in order to ensure system availability. Most operations groups are considered cost centers and suffer from the ability to be close to the business and therefore do the best they can with the resources allotted. So frequently, we hear the question: "Why can't these guys ever meet their schedules?"

This frequently practiced behavior should beg the answering to at least a few questions, including but not limited to:So, what would it take for your organization to acknowledge that a missed schedule indicts the planners, not the workers? Even if the workers are bumbling boneheaded incompetent idiots, a plan that takes careful note of their inadequacies can help to minimize the damage. However, a plan that takes little/zero account of realities is not just useless but utterly dangerous.

Cultures that are broken exhibit the lack of accountability in the right places. The people who set the schedule, not just the one who failed to meet it, need to be held accountable....

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Friday, April 01, 2011


Thoughts on Enterprise IT Projects and Aggressive Schedules (Part One)

In my experience, the majority projects in which the schedule is commonly termed "aggressive", it invariably turn out to be a fiasco...

Historically speaking, IT has always delivered at least 50% of their projects either over budget or late or both. So, by having leadershipmanagement declare an aggressive schedule, what do you think they hope to accomplish especially when being aggressive isn't back testable?

Independent of the stupidity of leadership, the bigger question is in asking yourself how do we avoid stepping in it? Could it be that in the commitment stage of project work something comes over us in the way the evil Mr. Hyde could take over kindly Dr. Jekyll?

Is this a question of diversity or should I say the lack of it? Should a team be solely comprised of blissfully ignorant optimists or should it have a healthy balance of pessimists who help keep conversations balanced? I come from the school of thought that says if you have two people who think alike, then you only need one...

Overcommitment is not just an accident! Companies sometimes take purposeful steps to build an overcommitment ethic into their managers and IT culture. Encouraging overcommitment may seem bizarre to many who are not familiar with an article of faith common to many managers. There is a school of thought that says while everyone knows that they won't hit the original date, there is no harm to the effort. This belief system is less about IT discipline and more about articles of faith.

Now, for those who simply aren't believers and haven't drunk the Kool-aid preferring rationale thinking over hype and indoctrination will come to see aggressive scheduling as a ludicrous worst practice.

Imagine setting a goal to build a McMansion in one week. Unindoctrinated outsiders will remind you that this kind of performance is not inline with reality. We ignore common sense and best practices while continuing to champion a distorted form of heroism and figure out that we will need at least one hundred skills framers on site ready to swing hammers on Tuesday, that we need fast drying cement when we pour the foundation on Monday and of course all the materials have to be onsite prior to everything getting started.

Reality says we will ignore the fact that having all the materials onsite will simply get in the way and show the work effort down. We will also conveniently forget that this form of aggressiveness will require us to have plumbers show up before there is anything to plumb or for electricians without anything to wire. Now, one little thing slips and in order to make up time, we end up skipping all the necessary inspections. At the end of the project, we got a house that is of low quality and costs at least double of what it cost to do right. More importantly, you hit the date but do you think the customer will be happy?

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