Faster to Market is not always the best policy -not what you think

Received a humorous, but truthful, comment on yesterday’s post.  A colleague of mine pointed out my poor grammar: “Brian I love this! Can I be your blog final editor though before you post these – the grammar errors are killing me 🙂.”  The comical excuse is that “I’m an architect or engineer, not a lit. major….”  or the neurological excuse: Asperger’s Syndrome.  –No, I haven’t been officially diagnosed, but those crazy online quizzes suggest I should.  Other’s chalk it up to calling me, whatever reason, a typical scatterbrain genius. Yes I’ve got a high IQ, but that nor any of the other explanations are valid excuses for not trying to improve.     

However, the plain fact of the matter is I’m always 100 miles ahead in my mind to what I’m writing down. Two of my mentors at Microsoft once commented separately: “Brian, you’re going to have a difficult time here in that you can go from A to Z in seconds in your head while others are having trouble just getting to B on paper”.  This causes me to skip words, sentences, and even whole paragraphs.  This post is an example I’ve had to go back several time to ensure I haven’t skipped something, etc.  Those that follow my word may already notice the long, well extremely long sentences….well punctuation are just friendly suggestions like road signs right 😉  The results of which is a reliance on proofing software which doesn’t always catch everything or an editor. 

As such I’m often in too much of a hurry to get my ideas down before these vanish from my current thoughts then push it out there. [Faster is not always better]  

What I’ve been doing about such 

A few years back I rejoined Microsoft’s MCS organization in an interesting role “IP Development Architect”.  The mission for such was basically empty my head of experience on various EA topics, develop approaches for the field to use to help our clients**. Basically as one of my mentor’s called it “being a brain on a stick for sale, lease, or rent”  

I took that role as a challenge to improve my writing and presentation skills; similar to the reason I took a role at IBM to learn marketing, sales, and become more outgoing (I’m an extreme introvert though you’d never know it).  During the years that followed I’ve been fortunate enough to have friends and colleagues point me to resources to help, as well as technical and grammatical editors to patch up my mistakes.

During that time I started investing in books (e.g., Peter Ingle’s Organized Writing Course, Nancy Duarte’s and Martin Sykes/Nick Malik’s books on presentations, etc.) that have taught me to put together great structure to my writings and presentations.  I actually get people asking me to do such for them or critique their work(specifically not grammar); which I’ve gladly done for many.  So I guess I’ve overcome some portion of my communication gap. 

This next twelve months with the help of my colleague, yes I’ll gladly take you up on your offer, I’ll work on the grammar portion of my writing.   

             

 ** I say clients rather than customers because I’ve always believed the company should establish long term relationships rather than transactional sales. Given the company’s strategy pivot to cloud services, I hope they are successful adopting such a philosophy.  The consequences of not doing so will be a loss of renewals in a future that depends upon good service and strong relationships.      

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.

Crossing the Chasm revised

Interesting perspective on where the chasm is now.

http://cognitiveworld.com/article/crossing-cognitive-chasm-circa-2017

Morning’s Ponders and Tool Suite Rational

Prior to jumping into finishing writing the technical approach for an RFP response this morning I spent a little time reflecting on the past few weeks of work.  I’m a big fan of Covey’s approach to analyzing your time to gain insights and understand patterns that could help you become more productive and enjoyment.  Yes I said pleased.  In a day when everyone talks about work-life balance as though these are separate things, I’m wondering if I’m the only one that gets enjoyment out of my work.

Must work translate into drudgery?

That seems odd.  I’m a woodworker, initially to assist my wife’s real estate projects and create items specific to what we need around the home, then it became a hobby.  As I participate in other social media sites around woodworking and makers, the pattern seems the same.  Then I find some others taking it a bit farther and creating businesses around their passion (e.g., Stumpy Nubs, The Wood Whisperer, etc.)  It appears woodworking has gotten a resurgence in popularity.  From their online appearance it seems they are have a passion for their work.  May be I’m reading into what I see in their public appearances and activities, but I continually see signs of real enjoyment in their participation in the craft.  Marc Spagnola,  The Wood Whisperer, has a science background and he uses it daily to expose the science behind the craft, right down to using the scientific method and experimentation to discovery such.  On his video blogs you see him and his wife Nicole banter back and forth.  To me its clear they are enjoying not only success in their business, but the process.

Which brings me back to this morning’s musings.  Do others also enjoy the process of their work like I do?   As I’m about to get back to writing the technical approach, I find myself excited about the process.  I really, no love, the entire process of discovering new methods and figuring out how to solve problems.  This is probably why I had gravitated to Management Consulting and Information Technology.

With that bit of personal insight, like always, after I closed out work last night I when back to working on the next section of my CAD for Enterprise ™ Design Tool suite.  My thoughts around this as a worthwhile endeavor is that there are plenty of technology corporations creating tools for what is the equivalent of CAM for Enterprise.  This matches what happened in the physical product industries for decades, lots of industrial automation technology while Architects, Engineers, and Designers continued to use manual methods and slide rules to accomplish their work till the computer technology became mature enough to be applied.  I’m seeing this as a similar pattern.  Last night I did a quick inventory of the “tools” I’ve built throughout my career to aid/automate various tasks around Enterprise Design, some I.T. oriented, some financial, some business management.  Then I looked at a tool I created in MS Access decades ago, B.A.S.E. ™ (Business Analysis System and Environment), it enable me to work in multiple functional domains on an engagement and reuse the information.  That goal I’ve continued to work on throughout my career.  A few weeks ago I had a brief exchange with my mentor regarding integrating various information domains.  With his encouragement and the involvement of others in their respective fields it looks like I’m close to creating the infrastructure that would support such a tools suite.

In the meantime I continue to create various point tools that will eventually snap-in, like the B.A.S.E. ™ product I created which had a similar idea of point tool modules.  This along with my question-based methodology is the goal I’ve set out to accomplish.  –and yes the point tools can be used in stand-alone mode; and yes I have shared these to others over the years (some on the Office Templates Online under the brand Intellectual Arbitrage Group which appears to have been syndicated on multiple sites as free downloads).

IT Portfolio Management –State of Industry Practice Report

 

This must be the year of the Portfolio tool suites. Interesting to see all the hype around IT Portfolio Management currently. When I dig into the materials and tools the past several months: Nothing new that you couldn’t do with a spreadsheet and have. The unfortunate thing is that the current state of industry practice is still around stack-ranking around perceived ROI and using budget target as a cutoff point for approved projects.

Yes, sure there are now project and application profile databases that allow you to capture descriptive information about the project or application, and categorize these. However, when you dig under the covers of these tools, it’s still plain old ROI stack ranking.

Maybe it that that’s all that current organizations can or wants to handle as far as investment decision making. Given the other hundreds of things that are on management’s plate. Considering that many technology decision-makers handover their own personal financial investment decisions to brokers and financial advisors, its small wonder that they would pick the simplest and quickest decision criteria.

Often when I discuss such topics I hear dismissive statements like “Academic”, “Analysis Paralysis”, or “Over-analysis”. Yet in the same corporation its field staff recommend and spent hours with clients analyzing various factors to make sound recommendations [some even use the methodologies and tools I’ve developed for this purpose].

A small, not uncommon scenario in industry today

In a previous project, I observed that at every opportunity decision-makers voted to remove objective evaluation factors or transform these factors into subjective ratings (wet finger in the air directional estimates) that the initiative sponsor would give and no one at the table would challenge. Groupthink or old-boys behind the scene dealing? In either event the portfolio management process eventually became a story-telling session to report up the chain on how great or critical the projects they were proposing are.

The process and approach were eventually closed out as it didn’t yield the results that either management or executive management wanted. –Small wonder given the only thing left of actual process was the title—And the management team went back to the way they always did it: project popularity and ROI hurdles based upon investment SWAGs that everyone knew were drastically off by several orders of magnitude. To be fair management was only following the lead of the executive they reported to, who was purported to focused on “just doing something”.

I point out the above as example of state of industry and why such practices persist.

Results from the field

However, that don’t mean there aren’t others that have matured in their decision processes and are achieving better than average results. Several statements have been made regarding the difference between number one and two in the industry and all the others. Reports suggest performance of number one and two are only about two to five percent better, they results from these year after year result in margins and market share of thirty percent or better while number three and lower are struggling to maintain five or ten percent.

A few things to clear up regarding IT Portfolio Management practices.

  • Imho, most are just inventory process and systems using discounted cashflow on guesstimates for valuation. Very few take a critical eye towards the value produced to the enterprise or the risks associated with such investments. Does this sound very financial advisor-ish? It should as that’s the domain where this all came from. The issue arises in that only part of the portfolio management equation has been used in IT Portfolios and other Enterprise portfolios. The entire risk side of the equation and other potential benefits has been dropped.
  • Portfolio Management is about balancing Risk and Reward
  • Portfolio Management results have a long tail; that is the improvement year after year compounds. It’s not market timing Big Bang / Big Bust or take a chance lotto

Several decades ago Parker & Benson proposed an investment decision framework in a modest book called Information Economics. In it what now is called a balanced scorecard approach was used to evaluate multiple factors for technology investments. I believe it was a watershed moment in that a framework for rational investment for the enterprise’s benefit was introduced. The framework embraced the concepts of a balanced portfolio the Markowitz (the economist who won the Noble Prize in Economic for developing Portfolio Management).

At present, it’s difficult to determine IT portfolio performance, as there is not an industry analysis firm gathering data on such or a benchmark yet (stay tuned). The only statistics I’ve found in this arena so far has been around IT spend or IT spend as percentage of enterprise revenue. However, the quick survey I’ve conducted over the years points to those that manage IT Investment beyond just ROI have better enterprise performance vs. IT performance year after year.

During this current year I hope to complete both my Modern Portfolio Management White Paper and Tool Suite with the support of my employer. The objective I have for both is a system that enables one to start from the basics then as time, resources, and cost/benefit determine raise themselves to the next maturity level of practice.

For those interested in this approach reach out to me either through my employer or directly via LinkedIn

Cloud –hype or a lesson to learn about ongoing technology change

A while back the model was there was a market for just 10 mainframes worldwide, or so the quote goes.  The in order for a corporation to join the big boys, you needed your own.  Decades later I’ve the equivalent of a S/360 processing power in my pocket.  If one follows the technology generations: On-Prem. Mainframe; Department Minis; Timeshare; PCs; Client-Server; then Internet, Now Cloud. There is always a new technology on the horizon (e.g., quantum computing) that will solve the worlds problems and put the kids to bed on time or so the marketing hype goes.

I’m neither a fan-boy or luddite when it comes to new technology.  I believe I’m a pragmatist.  I’ve a set of simple rules when it comes to acquisition and holding onto technology:

  • Explore and examine, but do not commit till conditions point to such
  • When exploring the technology, examine both the technological aspects:
    • does it add new capabilities
    • Is it stable (mature enough, reliable enough, has enough market share to continue a reasonable lifespan)
  • and business application:
    • does that new capability add something to my business
      • Reach to customers or markets
      • Improve customer relationships
      • Allow me to do something new for customer or improve my operations
    • or reduce costs and risks

Which brings me to the latest R&D I’ve been conducting over the past few decades that fits into my larger research project of creating a CAD/CAM system for Enterprise Design, Construction, Operations, and  Remodeling.   That latest research has been all about the overlap between business and technology strategy.  This is something my mentor John Zachman had started decades ago.  By now I can imagine several people’s eyes rolling. “Zachman Framework!, that so yesterday…”  However, those that have seen the decades of methodology hype go by know that the Ontology expressed in the Framework still is relevant.  Its just not the “silver bullet” everyone wants.  It takes some work to understand that the views defined in the Framework are there for a reason: To understand the various aspects of an abstract entity, Enterprise, to be manifested.

Given the hype and technology priesthoods that have developed around various methodologies: TOGAF, DODAF, SAFe, BPMN, etc.. I will not enter into the fray, other than to say these all have some aspect of utility and all address some dimensions in the Zachman Framework. 

Back to Cloud and business/technology strategy:  As of late business models or various levels of business models (Campbell’s Operation Model Canvas**) are become more mature from decades ago and starting to reach across to technology or rather technology has been identified as an enabler to business strategy.  With that as an underpinning to this post.  I post the real question around Cloud and Cloud Hype:

The real issue is how or should you take advantage of such. If you’re just switching technology to “modernize” that’s fine.  If the cost of maintenance or business continuity risk due to end of life is a significant threat changing technologies is a simple model (i.e., you’re replacing you car because you can’t get anything more out of your Model T).  That does suggest however, it will be running business as usual.

That, in my opinion, is short sighted as few businesses are in an environment that enables that.  Today business as unusual is the norm.  There is so much volatility and change going on in the space we call enterprise that operating a business is now more an effort of managing complexity and change than executing a simple production line was twenty or thirty years ago.  As such prior to committing to such a change it behooves Executives to ask the questions beyond the easy just replace On-Premise with On-Cloud for a supposed cost saving, how will I exploit the technology to improve my business besides just keep it operating another day?  As well as ask what are the trade-offs I make with such choices:

  • Dependencies/Risks on a service provider
    • Will they be around tomorrow
    • Will the service change
    • Besides Security and Data Ownership, can I extract such to a new provider should I decide to
  • Will/Can I integrate a broad spectrum of services together (primary vendor and others) with moderate or less effort, or is it really a closed system
  • How long will it take to covert?  Will the conversion take more time than the technology is likely to be in place

The thing I tell my clients continually, there is no free lunch, there are always trader-offs.  Some immediately, Some during an event, and Some eventually (i.e., in the future).  It is up to your executive team, not the technology providers or operators within the company, to understand these implications and impacts.  -And if your team does not have the confidence in making these decisions get a Business – Technology Strategy Consulting firm to assist.  This is not a technology strategy consulting firm (i.e., how to install, configure, and operate), but one that focuses on how-to use the technology for business as well as what are its implications to the business.

**full disclosure I’m working with Andrew Campbell on a tool suite to evaluate Operating Models similar to the evaluation tool suite I built for the Business Model Canvas community

Zachman Ontology (Framework) and other Ontological Models

This past Friday a had a short but insightful email thread with a new colleague, Karen Morphy. I’ve been busily working on my –to quote a joke from my PDES Inc. / ISO10303 development friends and associates — Mother of All Frameworks. Except its not my framework or ontology. Its John Zachman’ s.

I had previous discussed my various discussions with John about the Architect Metaphor and the drafting paradigm that people only partly understand. My thought around such is that the Framework is a 2D projection of a Multi-Dimensional Problem-Solution Space. The issue I brought up then to John and continue to work; on sending him insights that I discover for he and I to discuss. [I am still a supporter of and hopefully contributor to the advancement of the framework] Is finding the logical/mathematical connection that binds the rows and columns together into a unified whole. The Unified Field Theory of Enterprise Architecture if you please.

I had agreed to read and review [soon to come on Amazon] Operating Model Canvas book by another colleague Andrew Campbell.

About a quarter in I found that it would provide some valuable insights to a project of mutual interest between Karen and I.   I fired off a quick note suggesting this may be of value as it focuses upon the “architecture of implementation” –cringe at the application of such a phrase, but in this context I think its true to my definition of architecture .

Her question back: “How does that differ from the Business Model Canvas? Seems like it puts the Value Chain at the center so there is more of a customer journey represented? Being a Zachman disciple, I see many of these as just a rearrangement of the Zachman ontology…”

Almost without thinking my reply came. It seemed so natural: “I see all of these models as either subsets of Zachman Ontology or auxiliary views (I.e. Combinations of columns or rows to create a specific perspective needed for illumination (same thing is done in other engineering fields)”

Which brings me back to the drafting metaphor and my original personal R&D. With so many I.T. and Business Framework popping up every day how is one supports to make rational sense of such. As stated above I believe all these others are simply views or auxiliary views of the Zachman Framework. These are not better or worse than each other, but specific perspectives needed to illuminate a specific item of interest, similar to such in the drafting domain.