I’m a big believer that heroics are an unsustainable business process. If the business breaks because one person is out on a wrong day or for a week or takes another job, they didn’t do a good job. No one should be irreplaceable. All processes should be able to survive turnover.
I’m going on vacation next week which is what makes me think of this. There are a few people nervous about something breaking while I’m gone (lucky for them, I travel with everything I need to re-establish my home office in a pinch). I view this as a failure on my part. Delegation is not one of my strong suits and I know it. I need to make sure more of the things I do are spread out better.
While I’m out, this is where a lot of my thoughts are going to be. How do I make myself less critical? Said another way, how do I free myself up to move onto the next things?
When buying something that you don’t have today, it’s really hard to figure out how this new thing will actually fit into your world. For example, moving from Excel-based Lease Administration to a formal Lease Admin system seems like a no-brainer. Listening to a sales pitch, it has all the same functionality but better! But when you get it, you suddenly realize all the additional time and attention to detail that is required. It’s nothing like the Excel-based world. It’s so different as to be something new entirely.
If technology decisions were only about the tool itself, they would work 90+% of the time. Instead, we live in a world where many (if not most) new systems fail within the first year. The reason? People don’t understand that the thing they are buying will change how the work is done.
Change management is the single biggest obstacle to overcome when dealing with something new. It could be a new phone, new computer, new shoes, new color of pen. To some people, the change itself is the problem.
When talking to a salesperson, they will usually make their solution sound simple. And in a business-as-usual world where it is setup and running, it may be. But they will often gloss over the change challenge unless you bring it up yourself. But that is the challenge when getting something new – you don’t know all the right questions to ask.
I’ve always found the network to be key here. Someone somewhere has dealt with your same question, problem, or vendor. Covering all of your bases at the start will save you a lot of time and frustration later.
We all have a day-to-day job that we do. It’s composed of tasks, activities, communication, thinking, doing, etc. Sometimes it’s boring, sometimes it’s exciting. Most days are the same. We try to do our best against the objectives that we have. This is true no matter what level you are within a given organization.
One of the key things we all do is describe what we do to others. The description you give should be different depending on the audience. If I’m talking to a peer in finance then I may be “the person who sends you the invoice approvals.” But if I am communicating the same role to someone in leadership it would be better to say “I monitor our spend and help save money on our current work.” It’s the same job, but the two parties care about different aspects of it.
How your audience hears your story is as important as the work you do. If no one understands that the work you do is important, they aren’t going to see it as important.
I pre-ordered 3 Eeros for my house when they were announced. I installed them as soon as I got them in early 2016. A bit over 2 years in, it’s like a good Facebook friend: it pops up when you need but you don’t communicate for the most part and you are both comfortable with the relationship.
I haven’t had to reset my wifi router since they were installed. I haven’t had to update anything with my wifi router since they were installed. Coverage in my house is no longer questionable anywhere even though most rooms have something wifi related in them.
I just upgraded to the Eero plus security plan because everything I read said that it improved the web experience. One day I turned it on, the next minute pop-ups and ads were minimized and I had access to pro tools. Simple and seamless. I don’t have to think or worry about it.
Technology that disappears into the background may not seem sexy, but it’s a challenging feat. Too many tools and systems want to push out notifications and make you see its value. The best tools are confident enough in what they do to not need to announce themselves all the time.
A buzzword is any word or phrase that seems to have a commonly understood definition and doesn’t need explanation. In real estate buzzwords include agile, flexible, productivity. In business, generally, you get holistic, efficiency, utilization. In technology there is platform, cloud, SaaS, powered by, and user experience. In the media today, it’s things like deep state, fake news, collusion.
These words cause a reader to automatically put a starting context to everything that comes next. Specifically, these words are usually used in a way to specifically color a reader or listener’s perception of a topic.
If I were to say “This platform increases productivity through an efficient user experience.” it may seem like I’ve said something interesting on the surface. The buzzwords often replace the requirement to give additional detail. When dropped in the middle of a conversation, these words take on the color of the conversation prior while really not doing anything but sounding nice.
Anymore, I can’t read the news without seeing the words “fake” or “deep state” somewhere in one of the headlines. These words currently cause people to react and want to click on an article. They trigger emotions without conveying information. When a word creates action without needing meaning, it has value to anyone who is trying to accomplish a lot with only a little effort.
I can’t say this often enough, but anyone who uses buzzwords in this way doesn’t deserve your attention unless you are looking for calorie-free information.
Reality can be a cold, hard, vicious thing. Plenty of ideas that work in theory fail miserably once they are introduced to the cold light of day. It’s a situation that is easy to pretend doesn’t exist but it’s the cause of so much failure.
My favorite example of this is in technology roll-outs. In theory, some new technology is going to solve a problem and make everyone’s life easier. However, after it is rolled out everything breaks. The reality was that the problem turned out to be one that involved people and no change management efforts were implemented to overcome that (considerable) hurdle. It shouldn’t be a surprise but it often is.
Another great example is around finance. Often, an idea makes perfect sense and offers so many “soft saves” or “cost avoidances” or “operational benefits” that it seems a no-brainer to the team involved. Sometimes the idea even progresses almost to the point of implementation. Once finance is brought in to validate the investment everything falls apart because their view of the world wasn’t accounted for in the project planning. Unprovable savings are often useless in a true financial evaluation.
Finally, another favorite of mine is when project assume that user feedback they’ve received was accurate and/or comprehensive. I’ve experienced both extremes of this one multiple times. Users provide a “must have” feature list which a team scopes and prices assuming that it really is “must have” to only later discover that 80% of it is actually “wish list.” On the other side, you get a list of feature requirements that was thrown together in 5 minutes that doesn’t include 80% of what is actually needed. Moving forward significantly based purely on user feedback can be disastrous.
The problem with reality is that it expands the list of variables from a handful to an infinite amount. Operational situations that theory doesn’t have to address suddenly become front and center. If your design process hasn’t gotten muddy, you haven’t actually started. Real project managers always pack a rain jacket.
Seth Godin put up a thought-provoking post on Saturday titled On paying for software. This is another in a string of industry thinkers looking at the Microsoft acquisition of Github and trying to understand the potential impact. It’s a good moment to reflect on what software (and free) means to various industries.
Seth makes the point, correctly, that everything has a cost to create. But he also lays out the economic argument that the cost spread over essentially millions of users is often negligible (or at least seen by users as negligible). It’s the right argument to make for the why software needs an up-front cost.
The missing piece to so many of these discussions is what happens to software over time. Open source software that isn’t supported by a big software company often has issues getting and maintaining a team to build and maintain a system. Software degrades over time because it must interact with other systems. As those systems change, the interaction usually becomes less secure because the software didn’t think through angles and alleys that didn’t exist at the time.
Paying for software means that you are more likely to have someone paying attention to it over time. If you need a tool precisely once, the on-going cost doesn’t matter. But if you need something to support you over time, either someone else is maintaining it or you are. If you aren’t paying for it, you are the one maintaining it whether you realize it or not.