Philip K. Dick was right but may be wrong also

For those who are not Science Fiction fans, Philip K. Dick was a writer of notable insight to cultural trends.  His books have later been turned into blockbuster movies: BladeRunner, Minority  Report, Total Recall,  and Next to name a few.  His books had a dystopian perspective to these, where governments and social agents become tyrannical.   I will not dwell on that forecast of the future of society is this post.  One interest concept I thought interesting was his focus on media.  More specifically how the media would change.  Though the movie adaptations only hinted at it media, print for example, changed from a primarily word based format to more of a graphical based one.  Well the saying goes “One Picture…”

When moveable type was created it did two things. First it made production of information cheaper.  Thus distribution of information increased and was made available to lower income people. Second, it changed the cost ratio between text and graphics.  When books were hand drawn, the cost of graphics was on a par with text.  This ratio changed only slightly over the years until the application of computer technology.

What is interesting about this was that prior to the movable type revolution much communication was through pictures and other symbols.  Dick’s prediction of the future was a return to graphical communication and a reduction in text.  This inferred a lowering of grammatical literacy within society as a whole.  Having just complete several Government RFP response marathons where reply instructions were specific about writing to an 8th Grade level that would seem to prove Dick’s point.  However, I took a few steps back in considering such.

What came to mind were presentations and proposals I’ve seen and participated in over the years.  Many times I was privy to executive decision-maker sessions.  What struck me over the years was how these sessions have changed.  Initially presentations and proposals were fully of textual information.  A slide or page was filled with paragraphs of descriptions and opinions.  A little later after spreadsheets had become the go-to business tool, these became filled with tables of data and charts.

Then as graphic software became more capable presentations in many companies became more simple and focused.  A term which was not originally meant to be complimentary became popular code for these presentations to executives: “Big Animal Charts”  I suppose this was because someone thought reducing issues down to the simplest concept was similar to old children’s books; “See Spot Run, See Tiger run…”   A sort of arrogance was hidden in this comment lay just below the surface.  That is “I’m the expert and you’re not.  I have fancy jargon”  While jargon is useful to shortcut the communications process, its also an inhibitor for those that are not dedicated to a particular discipline or domain.  What many proposers and presenters forget, myself included, is that the presentations and proposals are not about me but about the audience.  So any means to make understanding easier for the audience is good.

Now I get back to my most recent RFP and presentation efforts.  After writing my technical responses I ran a reading level analyzer.  The results didn’t shock me.  The text was rated at Ph.D or beyond.  A far cry from the 8th grade level requested.  After significant effort I managed to reduce it down to 12th grade reading level. There I was stuck and required assistance from team mates, who thankfully jumped in.  What I found interesting beyond the reading level issue was that when I presented similar or more complex material I used very little text, choosing to use pictures, diagrams, and charts.  When I asked several audience members if the material was too complex and I should simplify it, thinking the words needed to be “dumbed down” I got a surprise.  They hadn’t even read the words, instead they got all they needed from the charts and spoken words, even though I used very technical jargon.

Which brings me back to Mr. Dick’s forecast of the future of media.  That graphics would dominate communications in the future.  Interesting points to consider: Look at Steve Jobs presentations, Nancy Duarte’s books Slid:eology & Resonate or books on Storyboarding –Hollywood’s go-to method to organize and present complex information.  All of which rely on graphics.  May be Philip was right in his forecast of the rise of graphics but others were wrong in thinking that graphics is dumbing down the communications.

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Modern IT Portfolio Management: Investment Profiles

Last night I reviewed of my notes interviewing investment brokers, portfolio managers the past few months and delved deeper into my growing collection of Wiley Finance Series of books.  This morning I scanned through “The Art of Asset Allocation” by David M. Darst searching for the next analogs in financial portfolio management to pair up with IT Portfolio Management.  It occurred to me the metaphors currently in usage in wall street: Bulls, Bears and other animals used to characterize investment behavior is close to but not exactly a match for IT Investment.  In a previous White paper I had researched and written for Microsoft’s Services division on Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery I had started to layout a third dimensional grid-work on the organizational decision behavior and environment.   As I re-read the insight I had working on various aspects of decision science I can see how to apply these learnings plus several other insights to IT Portfolio Investments.

Investor Profiles

The only downside to this approach is that most consulting firms prefer to adhere to the 2×2 matrix.  The logic behind such is they feel more than 2×2 or binary decision values confuses management and executives.  A little insulting to their clients if you think about it.  However, the objective is to communicate quickly to the client not show the complexity and nuance behind the analysis.  As such when I develop a more comprehensive tool, I’ll have to have it yield several simple 2×2 views of the decision for ease of understanding.  I did this with the design of the Cloud and APM Portfolio Tool for Microsoft IT Strategy and Enterprise Architecture services division a few months ago.  The feedback I got from my personal CxO advisory panel were very positive.   Expect to have a wireframe of the tool’s output to match the personas I’ve developed ready by end of next month**.  The it becomes a decision on what technology to build.

**I like the advice I got from Alan Cooper a few years back; “Design from the outside in”.  The common sense of it seems apparent, however, so few companies and developers do such.  Today all the rage is teaching developers and consultants to use personas.  Unfortunately, the lessons typically stop at using them as sales tools to justify what has already been built rather than design tools to ensure operation and aesthetics match with the enduser’s needs and desires.

Structure in Threes: One Enterprise’s Capability is another’s Function

Spent a portion of yesterday going through my project archive (two four drawer lateral file cabinets).  Mostly to clear out duplicated or outdated materials, but some was information mining for the book.  Typically on engagements I spend a fair amount of time to understand clients mental models, language and corporate culture with the objective to operate and communicate in the organizational structure with as little disruption as possible.  While this assists my clients, as I go to the effort of translating concepts into their language so they don’t have to spend the cycles.  This allows them to focus on exploiting the solutions, recommendations I propose and get value from these faster.  Which gets to the point of this post.

The mysterious language of strategy-speak.  Pick up any book on strategy the past decade or two and you’ll see a discussion on the importance of Corporate Capabilities.  The problem being though is the definitions are rather fuzzy.  Is CRM a function or a Capability or both or Software Product or now a Service?  Clearly if we are discussing the “ability” for an organization to manage customer relationships effectively we’re talking capability.  If we discuss the organizational unit tasked with preforming tasks associated with managing customer relationships it would be labeled a business function; which become even more confusing when we add the software products meant to enable performance of those tasks which could be either a product or a service.  And you thought your teenager’s language was confusing.  Those that enter the discussion without context need to spend extra effort to decipher if they can from the dialog.

Why I bring up this semantic problem?  This becomes a critical matter when designing an optimum organizational design.  I stress designing the “optimum” design; like product engineering there are many possible configurations possible.  However, there are a fewer configurations that fit the specific enterprise’s working environment, corporate culture and resources.  These are the high level design inputs parameters which affect the design decisions.  Unfortunately, there hasn’t been a metrics driven approach toward organizational design –something I’m in the process of remedying now through this book– that would include usage of concepts such as Taguchi’s Design of Experiments for design optimization.  However, to use such an approach one needs to standardize on terms such as these, the attributes and metrics associated with these.  Which again brings me back to my achieve and the broad spectrum of models and definitions I’m wading through to create a consistent ontology for Enterprise Design.

I had hoped to avoid the Yet Another Framework (YAF) trap, but I’m still seeing wide variance between associations and societies languages, as broad as what I experienced working on the ISO 103030 (STEP) standard.  My goal is not to create still one more framework, but rather the transformations similar to those John Zachman mentions as key with he discusses his framework. These would not be between cells but between other framework constructs.  The point behind such activity is to make the specific representation system any enterprise uses transparent to the design effort.

 

These materials though will likely be in the appendix or associated supporting website for the book, as it will likely be a long term effort and would delay development of the core design methodology.

Information Management: Taxonomy creation methodology

Made more progress on Taxonomy creation methodology yesterday on several front.  Enlisted several peer to collaborate or comment of the core aspects of developing a system to determine taxonomy approach; Richard Harbridge and Ruven Gotz.   I was pleased that Richard had picked up my recommendation and read Patrick Lambe’s Organizing Knowledge.  It gives use some common ground to discuss going forward. 

The materials Lambe covers look to drive core of the methodology.  Richard and I discussed the design of the methodology and agreed on next steps he’d take on.  He pointed out developing key questions to help make assessments possible was a key component and volunteered to develop such.  I’m working on the translation of those questions into matrices.  We had initially some disagreement on whether the results should be a set of matrices or a gradient scale.   We resolved that issue as just a presentation option that consultants can select as per their preference.

The system design appears to have the same pattern as the marketing management process (MMP) I reengineered for IBM ten years ago.  I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by that as the nature of both problem spaces have similar attributes; both have elements of unstructured and structured knowledge. The mechanisms I used for MMP included: multiple routes through the process; a capability maturity model; ISO9000 verification and validation; and several six sigma measurement methods. 

The key concern both Richard and I share about formalizing an approach is avoiding creating a technical religion with a priesthood. However, I’m sure we can avoid establishing such by putting the approach in the public domain.  As we progress I will continue to post the results on this Blog which is covered by the Creative Commons License or on Microsoft’s Office Templates Online for free downloads.  The only restrictions I believe my collaborators agreed on and I have on reuse are spelled out in that license.  Basically we want to ensure credit is given to those that have either directly contributed or contributed through their published works (e.g., Partrick Lambe, etc.)

Next post will contain the reading list on Information Management topics I’m using.        

Visual Thinking

This morning I started reading “Turning numbers into Knowledge” by Koomey; an interesting book gear more towards academics and researchers than typical knowledge workers.  When I say geared, it’s the style and tone of writing more so than the information contained within.  The book presents a how-to organize your problem solving.  The small amount I’ve read so far had me thinking about the problem of problem solving and if in the scheme of issues it ranked high on an organization’s the Pareto List of critical items to address.  Combing through my various graphical notes

–I typically create diagrams and sketches for notes rather than text; I had found visual note taking and thinking to be more information intensive than typical text when I was studying architecture.  This was later reinforced by a business associate, Eileen Clegg; I met at the Congress on the Future of Engineering Software (COFES) several years ago.  Her company Visual Insights      http://www.visualinsight.net/ is a welcomed regular fixture at this annual event.  I think the one year she missed attendance there were several people, myself included, asking why.  Many of the Engineering and Engineering Software community’s best; the most creative, innovative and productive are visual thinkers.  I can’t recall a single member of this esteemed group that didn’t have to have a whiteboard or some graphical tool suite in order to think or relate information during our conversations.

At first I thought it was because these were complex topics with lots of detail, which each could be.  The diagrams and pictures though were for the most part very simple, no more than a few simple lines, circles and arcs, etc.  However, like the Chinese saying “One picture is worth a thousand words” these minimalist sketches were very dense in the information they chaptered and represented.–        

 I bring up graphical notes as to indicate that during my career, as I’ve taken notes, I have captured in my graphical journaling much more details than just the issue that was to be address at the time.  Many times I would capture the process of how the group solved the problem or made the decision.  The various projects I’ve been involved with regarding reengineering processes for Rockwell, Boeing, Microsoft, IBM, Samsung and a host of small companies has introduced me to multiple graphical techniques.  Even as I write this post this morning I find myself drawn to mindmap my thoughts as opposed to writing out these ideas.  Writing –as skill I’m trying to improve upon these past few years—is basically one dimensional while my thinking in multidimensional so relationships between concepts are lost in translation as I peck out the words.  Thankfully Hypertext had been created, so I can come back at a later date and establish those relationships.  This has become a long way around and may still have some missing links between my initial thoughts and the insight below, but I’ll come back at a later time and address that bridging issue.

 What I discover –again, which was the rationale for creating Intellectual Arbitrage Group—was that most problems companies are addressing are the same.  What makes them appear different is the context in which they live.  The majority of the activity people in organizations perform is not really deep problem solving but daily searching and translation to the context they’re working in.  Some of the interesting issues around that is identifying the core solution set.  Often because problem/solution pairs are not well documented, people will take the closest solution metaphor at hand to use.  This from my findings is one of the root causes of project failure as opposed to technical failure.  So the end results of many projects are technical success but not achievement of business objectives.

 The cause of this misalignment and how to avoid such will be the topic of future post as I continue to diagram out a working Information Management Methodology.               

 

Governance Framework: Mechanisms for Information Management and SharePoint

Much of the Governance Models I’ve seen as of late still focus heavily upon how to set permissions in SharePoint.  In previous blog post I stated I don’t believe this is governance but rather the enforcement end of governance.  It this posting I’ll address some of the aspects of establishing a governance.

 For me the initial question of governance boils down to what are your objectives for governing.  Sounds a bit of circular logic, hopefully I can clear that up.  There is a business reason for having SharePoint deployed unless it’s just a technical toy, a let’s see what it can do pilot or a use it because we have it for free.  These are variations of a solution looking for a problem.  My recommendation is to go get some coffee, put your feet up with several other and brainstorm what and why you want to use it, if not go to a technology briefing to see the technologies possibilities and then brainstorm.

 When I look at SharePoint I see features that could enable two key organizational capabilities:

  •  Information Management
  • Workflow

 Information Management is a broad topic and there are various aspects to it.  SharePoint is not and out of the box solution for such.  It has some new features in 2010 that are still, for lack of a better word, primitive.  However, so too are the organizational competencies that SharePoint would help to address.  Information Storage and Retrieval is only slightly better that desktop search as implemented in most companies that I’ve surveyed.  The rational for such is that companies are still trying to figure out how to organize their information.  While many companies have librarians, most of them are focused on hardcopy management or external searching not establishing information management policies and procedures.   Only recently have a seen job titles for taxonomists and information architects that are described in terms other than application UI/UX responsibilities.                  

 Workflows are another broad area, but most efforts I’ve been seeing are towards automating desktop procedures or routing documents for approvals.  It seems that all the value stream and process knowledge that corporations had built up in the past decade has been filed away or discarded mid-stream before benefits could be achieved.  We know seem to be on a path of bottom up vs. top down.  I believe either extreme is wrong.   Workflows or process automation and tracking has the possibility of integrating the silos that companies have had so much problem breaking down.  However, that takes effort to follow the value streams across the departmental boundaries.  Something I.T. organizations have been assumed to have the charter, but often end up structured as the departments working with resulting in becoming silo’d themselves.  Think about your I.T. organization most seem to be structured into Infrastructure and then application areas (finance, marketing, engineering, manufacturing, etc.)  This is a counterforce to breaking the silos corporate executives would want to have happen.  This is not however and I.T. problem so much as a corporate governance problem.

 Having set the content here are a few of the mechanisms I had implemented that over time have put some organizations on the path.

 First, Information Management governance is not about permissions as previously stated.  IM Governance and its implementation in SharePoint is about having an executive decision function that determines the policies and procedures on how information is to be managed.  Issues like what is a record, who is responsible for creating them –though most people create them without knowing.  How and where information should be storage throughout its lifecycle, cradle to grave.  Policies and procedures such as this eventually drive SharePoint permissions.  Some of these issues require both Human Resource and Legal department input to help develop as well as procedures/processes to ensure compliance.

 Next Workflow issues should be looked upon from a broader perspective.  How should smaller workflows and the information they carry be joined together.  I recently witnessed an organization that had several workflows automated, sounds great so far.  Upon inspection, much of the information was not only overlapping but feed the next departments process.  Sounds like a great candidate to link together right?  However, the structures that carry the information and the representations of that information were incompatible.  However, the results from one department’s work were get this manually rekeyed into another similar but different workflow.  Thus what could have been a streamlined process is human bridged multiple times resulting is all the issues with manual transcriptions.

 The governance mechanism I used is some other organizations was to have workflows (processes) diagramed and cataloged, along with the data, purpose and context of the information.  This became the role of the Business Architecture Group and the review board.  While it may seem like a bottleneck and it could become one.  The Business Architecture Group was a meta-data management function about corporate information as well as an advisory function for application development.  They did not have the authority to stop development from building applications, but they could advise as well as recommend to the CIO that applications be revised or changed based upon reviews.  This prevented Business Architecture from holding up development until they approved any plans.

 Through publishing the catalog and information library, having a policy that developers should check the catalog while designing applications this created a system where common information elements where continually developed and exploited. 

 These few mechanism have put some organizations ahead of their competitors in using information as a competitive edge.

Content Vs. Style, Complexity Vs. Simplicity

Started pondering the various swings in popular culture last night and the unintended consequences lots of little decisions make upon our lives. The biggest of these that came to mind are the various oxymoron’s that pervade our culture and thinking processes. The first of these examples is what Joseph Pine of Experience Economy and Mass Customization notoriety called out. We are moving to a culture of experiences and small personalization to establish our identities. A simple look around one see lots of individually customized devices, yet they somehow all look the same. In the mélange of customizations that our devices enable as a whole the look and behave relatively the same. In the sixties young people would state that everyone one looked the same in a suite and they were going to be different. I would hazard to say those “radicals” once they all got together all looked the same also. In the end the hippy cloths were just another uniform to identify with a community which yields a portion of someone’s identity.

This sounds rather harsh, inferring that people are shallow and only concern with style over substance. I look at what magazines, articles and media information is most popular should confirm that. I believe porn, celebrity news and fashion categories are still on the top of the most view information on the net. And if we go the point closer to the technology world, Apple, once considered a one the ropes and a technology simpleton (not my label but others who had branded them such) has emerged to be at the top of the capital pyramid above Oracle and Microsoft, all based upon Steve Job’s attention to style. If one strips down the latest Apple technology it is very basic, little room for variability most of the decisions are made for you. Yet consumers loved it because you could add little applets to personalize your experience. Apple even created an exchange, closed market, where you could buy customizations. Purchasing these provided an additional revenue stream above and beyond the original device. Think of this as the Printer Cartage market dynamic model converted to software.

Now the interesting hypocrisy of our thinking. Many love the ability to purchase and piece together just the applets we want for the experience, but when it comes to the Air Travel we’re upset with the unbundling of the services (e.g., Seats selection, Meals, Baggage, etc.) An interesting change of perceptions depending upon the context.

Now many would infer I’m unfairly beating up on Apple, calling their products simplistic and almost inferring they are toys. I will admit I have friends that are: Any Buddy but [IBM, Microsoft, Apple, Oracle, …] you put the company title in. I however look at the intention behind the result; make it achieve the function easily from the user’s perspective (i.e., simplicity). Having been in the complexity business for years –hopefully fighting against it, not fostering it—I’ll state a maxim that was once told to me be a mentoring engineer: “Complexity is easy, Simplicity is hard” Watching the evolution of devices from Apple I am impressed with their focus to that implied mantra “make it easy for the end user”.

With that little bit of insight, I wonder how much are we trying to do the same in our roles as of late vs. complicate things for other to make it easy for ourselves?