Show Me Candy #WhenVendorsAttack

l1001849_tonemappedVendor Demo

As a leader in IT, I have the benefit and the curse of 1,000+ vendors contacting me on a weekly basis.   Here are some challenges, issues, concerns and solutions for those selling warez.

Challenges for Vendors

Solving problems I don’t have or that I have nothing to do with..

Dear Howie,  As the IT leader for Knowledge Management I am pretty sure you need our UI / UX, AI, IA, RPAi, RPA, Workflow, Branding, Cloud SaaS,  CRM, Service Now, Crayola digital art kit.   How’s next Tuesday?  or Hey Howard (Howie) How-ster.. How-dog…  My SVP Fred Mcpuffinstuff asked me to setup a meeting with you to go over your needs in feeding puppies.   We are experts in puppies and we know that we can serve all your needs.   In fact, we will actually bring you a puppy when we see you and we will serve you puppy for dinner when we go out in town.

Honestly,  this is a very annoying at best and creates a situation where it impacts my productivity at worst.   You don’t know anything about me or what I do but you never know.. you may get lucky?   It isn’t likely..

Talking vs Demonstrating  | Demonstrating vs Talking

Tools.. tools… tools..   First they want to talk about the tools but then quickly realize things aren’t simple in the big enterprise environment.   Next we may talk about doing a demonstration but because there is a lack of understanding of the environment there isn’t an understanding of limitations.   The problem here is that vendors assume that we have 100% access to all of our resources.  They don’t take into consideration to ask about controls.  They also don’t know who they are speaking with relative to the demonstration. “This is the best bacon your Synagogue orthodox congregation will ever have.”  A real world example of this would be security vendors looking to sell me network solutions and wanting to demonstrate intrusion detection software.   That’s nice, but it really has nothing to do with me.    On the other end of the spectrum, some companies want to sell something that they can’t demonstrate beyond a wire-frame.  The reason is that they have the “talent” to build something custom or they have an “engine” to do whatever it is I can imagine.   My bologna has a first name.. ♪♫♬

Transparency

Many companies are just trying to get their feet on the ground.  I understand that and in my opinion, there isn’t anything wrong with becoming an entrepreneur.   It takes a lot of courage to go out on your own and start a business.    The issue is about risk.

A few years ago, I was working for a very large oil and gas company as a consultant.   The company had decided to buy software from a very small company.  The software worked well but the small company couldn’t keep up with the demand from the large company.  At the end of the day, the large company had to buy the small company.     This happened because the company was understaffed and the licensing costs didn’t cover the operational and capital expenses.   They were successful in their sale but they could not afford to scale and they didn’t understand the scope of business relative to expense in operations vs sales.

Going with a startup or Small, Medium Business (SMB) is fine but we need to work with the companies to understand the risk / reward.  If the risk outweighs the reward, it simply isn’t worth it. Many companies try to hide information about themselves but they wind up having to answer these questions with the vendor management groups of large companies.  Lack of transparency up front will cost you a sale, even if someone like me loves you.

Issues for Vendors

Misrepresentation of intention

For simplicity sake,  I am friendly but not your friend.   Many people contact me like we are old friends and served in the armed forces together.   Hey man,  could you do me a solid and connect me with your CIO?   Sure, I will get right on that brother.   I don’t mind helping out or talking to people, but if you intention is to simply use a relationship with me that you didn’t have in the first place,  it isn’t working out well for your endeavor.

Poor listening skills

Understanding words like (yes or no).   Sometimes, people call me and I say “no” because I can’t or it is not comfortable for me.  Maybe I say “no” because I don’t want to do it.   In many cases, vendors are so persistent and aggressive that they literally can’t understand the word “no.”   This doesn’t work out well in the long run because if you had accepted what I had to say,  I would be happy to refer you to other people who might say “yes.”

If you can’t listen in the beginning, there is a good change that you can’t listen at all.

Asking for favors

This is one of my favorites.  I don’t mind helping people and I do go out of my way to help people.  Anyone who knows me, knows that I am willing to help.    Often times the vendor equivalent of Wimpy comes and knocks on my door asking for a bunch of hamburgers today that they will gladly pay me back for on Tuesday.    Over time, I have learned that they (mostly) take the burger and run.    Don’t ask a prospect that you don’t know for favors.   

Concerns for Vendors

  1. Loss of trust
  2. Loss of sale
  3. Loss of opportunity for the future

Solutions for Vendors

  1. Research the company (not the people individually)
  2. Do your homework.
  3. Contact the right people in the company.

The secret in successful engagement is to build a trusted relationship up front.  Listen carefully to the prospect.   Don’t run us over with the pitch.  Be honest, open and transparent.   If you are dealing with a large organization, understand that you will be putting skin in the game and that an engagement will cost you money.   It is an investment for you as much as it is for them.

There are so many stories about vendorzilla situations, that we could probably write a book on it.

What’s yours?

 

Why Every Leader Should Build a RetroPi

IMG_1991Strategy

It is estimated that the number of mobile phone users in the world is expected to pass the five billion mark by 2019.   The level of interaction with technology creates an illusion of understanding.   Expert users are not expert technologists.

Many senior leaders don’t claim to be expert technologists but when it comes to technology decisions it has become much easier to have an informed opinion on technology whether for design or desired outcome.   This has put a great strain on IT because technology while magical is not magic.   It takes hard work,  a great deal of thought and planning.   Even if agile methodologies are applied,  requirements matter.

In this world of 140 characters or less,  it is safe to say that some folks reading this blog if uninterested would have disengaged about eight sentences ago.    The expectation today is that everything will happen quickly and it will be exactly what was expected or we disengage and find something else.   This is one of many reasons that IT is suffering in large companies today.  CIO’s are fighting subscription or licensed services for solution delivery.   It is true that cloud services and licensed subscription models have great benefit but acquisition of these services still require strategic thinking.

A simple exercise in building a small and usable gaming system will demonstrate end to end implementation of easy to acquire technology and show how important strategic planning and understanding of technology is relative to projects small, medium or large.

Many leaders in industry are walking away from IT and looking to make IT decisions on their own.   They can use their own budget and solve their own problem without IT.  In some instances where risk is low, they can do this with very little impact.  In most cases, they find a need to bring IT in at either the end of the purchase or when they need to actually implement.  This creates contention and can impact their ability to get the software or services they wanted in the first place.   The underlying question is “Why can’t I do here what I do at home”?   Anyone feel free to comment on this .. but the various reasons should be addressed in another blog at some point.   

If industry  / business leaders want to make decisions in technology, they should become familiar with what it takes to compose and implement solutions.  I am not saying they should become IT experts but my contention is leaders should know their desired outcome relative to the environment they are in.    An info-graphic on AI can drive me to put Alexa in my home but this is very different from me deploying Alexa in my company.   As a leader, I need to understand the differences to make an informed and economically sound and viable decision.

Making it Real

The Raspberry Pi is a small computer that you can purchase for as low as $10.00.

The Raspberry Pi has free open source operating systems that you can download for many uses.   One of the operating systems available has software called RetroPi.  With RetroPi you can build a system that plays thousands of games from many of the older popular gaming systems.

You can get as fancy as you like depending on your desired result.

picade

or you can keep it simple

img_2074

Either way,  it is learning experience that incorporates some very basic skills using technology to accomplish a relatively simple goal.

Leadership that seeks to use technologies to enable and grow their business should have a tacit understanding of this kind of project.

Some factors to consider here are

  1. Instructions are readily available both written and video (Build a Pi)
  2. The operating system is no cost and easy to install
  3. The software is pre-configured and highly intuitive
  4. The estimated time to completion is 10 minutes (That’s fast)

Results May Vary

Here we have a simple project that should take 10 minutes to employ.  It will result in countless hours of fun and entertainment for the family and for those who enjoy retro games, it will save hundreds of dollars in purchasing a retro console.  It meets most of the criteria asked from technology companies and IT today.  It has the makings of a perfect simple technology implementation.

Side note, below is my machine that I built..

cogames

LOST -Line of Sight Tasking and Result

ImageThe last thing you did may have been the first thought in someone’s head and the last thing on your big list of things to do.

“If you thought you were busy now, just wait.”

What the management books or leadership books have a hard time conveying is something beyond a process.  The tacit knowledge that makes successful people actually successful is where a lot of the magic lives.   Reading most of these books gives the reader some good ideas on the process but not always the methods employed to create that success.   Enough on this..  back to the point.

LOST – Line of sight tasking causes stress, anxiety and can make some feel overwhelmed.   Managers can forget what tasks they put out and the result is a loss of tasking and accountability.   Recently, I have thought of this as in relation to a math or science problem.   If a manager tasks 15 people by line of sight, he or she can achieve their ultimate goal.   The manager can still have a mission, vision, goal and objective, critical success factors and an end state in mind.   This manager can be successful but there is a cost.   Lets look at this from the perspective of a math problem.

The problem to solve is: (3+4i)+(8-11i)

The answer is: 11-7i

as opposed to 

The problem to solve is (3+4i)+(8-11i) and.. Remember, with complex variables, keep like terms involving i together….

Multiply i and 4

Multiply i and 1

The i just gets copied along.

The answer is i

i

4*i evaluates to 4i

3+4*i evaluates to 3+4i

Multiply i and 11

Multiply i and 1

The i just gets copied along.

The answer is i

i

11*i evaluates to 11i

8-11*i evaluates to 8-11i

To add the polynomials 3+4i and 8-11i we try to add or combine terms in one polynomialwith any like terms in the other polynomial.

3 + 8 = 11

4i + -11i = -7i

The answer is 11-7i

(3+4*i)+(8-11*i) evaluates to 11-7i


The final answer (almost!) is

11-7i

Now, let’s simplify the i‘s to get our final answer:
The i in -7i cannot be simplified, so just leave it as is.


The final answer is

11-7i

It is pretty ironic that I am using this as an example since I consider myself Dyscalculia.   Getting to the answer or knowing the answer or getting the result is only PART OF THE PROBLEM.   We have to be able to understand how we got to the answer and further what steps = tasks we took to get there.

What if I were to say to solve this problem (3+4i)+(8-11i) but the “order of operations” is by line of sight management.  “I need you to start with 3+8.”  Could you get to the right answer?  Sure, I bet you could.. might take longer.  How do you know you have the right answer?  How could someone help validate your logic?  How could people duplicate your efforts?

If we take a logical and thought out iterative approach to project and task management there is time to check our work.   Line of sight tasking creates memory loss.  No one really knows what happened last or what is coming next.

The thing about feeling overwhelmed in project management and feeling stressed is to get a hold of the big picture. The problem is that anxiety and stress related to line of sight tasking doesn’t really come from the person that is creating the tasks. It comes from the people that are on the receiving end. Somehow people that are creating the tasks are of the mindset that if you believe it, you can achieve it.

Consider this when you are working on your next project.

DoD isn’t ready for Cloud Computing

If you read the Cloud Computing strategy paper there are a lot of great ideas but in our environment today they aren’t realistic.   Without getting into great detail or even attacking the strategy point by point we can totally dismantle the strategy with one concept, THE SLA / OLA.

How will you hold the DISA accountable when cloud services fail?   Where has DISA been successful with Cloud Computing today…? (be honest now).

Who will advocate for customers when DISA fails?  How will IT acquisition practices and programmatics change to accommodate the cloud?   I could really go on and on.

Bottom line is that DISA and the CIO don’t even know where all of the IT services are in the DoD holistically.   In other words, there is no “list” of DoD services.   I have been asking and looking for years for a list of even cloud like capabilities.    It is solving the wrong problems precisely to add cloud services to the mix and assume that you are going to force people to your services.

I would say that it will flat out fail until you start changing behavior not technology.

They talk about fostering adoption with the stick of governance but anyone who understands anything about “The elephant and the rider”  knows that in our world (DoD) we cannot DEMAND AND FORCE CHANGE.

I wasn’t clear.. sorry..  YOU CANNOT FORCE CHANGE IN THE DOD.

You can lead change.  You can inspire change.  There are a lot of things you CAN do but forcing people to go to cloud solutions on DISA isn’t going to be one of them.

Most people who I know have strong feelings about DISA..  I wouldn’t use the word.. LOVE .

The DoD tried to consolidate services and broker services with technology before, anyone heard of SOA?  It failed because they put technology first.

“If I give you this cool THING, you will LOVE me and you WILL give me your DATA.”  That is bologna.    If you put governance in place that will do it? NOPE.   Governance in the DoD from the highest levels is like a big fat tiger with NO TEETH.  It looks scary but the bite just tickles.

SO.. here is my challenge to YOU reader.  Ask everyone you know what cloud services exist in the DoD.   Ask them where they are and how much they cost.   Ask them what the SLA(service level agreement) looks like.  Ask them what the OLA (operational level agreement) looks like.   Ask them who they currently service .   Ask them for a list of technical capabilities.

LAST BUT NOT LEAST.. Ask them to be honest about what they have and who they are serving and the maturity of their environment.

Prove me wrong, but I am willing to bet that you won’t find a list unless you make it yourself.   You will find services all over the place funded in all sorts of ways.   You will find that the CIO doesn’t know what is in her enterprise. **sorry** is that effort underway?  I didn’t see a discovery phase in the strategy but maybe I overlooked it.

Let me know what you come up with…

 

 

 

 

http://blogs.federaltimes.com/federal-times-blog/2012/07/12/dod-releases-cloud-computing-strategy/

Agile DoD Part 2

I changed the title because the requirements changed…. Really.

I woke up this morning and grabbed that first cup of java, it was really good as usual.   My wife makes great coffee, she does it every day without fail.   We don’t even need to meet about it.   On that note, I grabbed the paper and read and article tied to meetings adversely impacting IQ( http://news.menshealth.com/how-meetings-make-you-stupid/2012/02/13/ ).

Still reading? Good because I will get to my point.   Agile is good BUT agile is good if there is balance as with everything else.  Let’s take apart the next piece of the Agile Principles.  Remember that my focus and context is related to the DoD.  Where you may have the ability to execute YOUR way 100% my opinions may not apply.

Principles behind the Agile Manifesto

We follow these principles:Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer
through early and continuous delivery
of valuable software.

Number 1 priority is customer satisfaction.  GREAT! Early delivery of software does not compute.  How about “on time” software delivery?  How about “highest quality” software delivery?  In the DoD, they don’t need early and often.  They need on time and stable.   Think not?  Continuous delivery of software means continuous software updates.   See http://diacap.org/ if you are interested in the implementation process for DoD Information Systems for certification and accreditation (C&A).   The most common answer I get from people who practice agile is… “oh that.. that has to change”  

Welcome changing requirements, even late in development.

Agile processes harness change for

the customer’s competitive advantage.

Competitive advantage has to do with beating someone in a commercial market position.   War is long, war is cold and war for the DoD is not a business.  I didn’t say war is not a business, I said for the DoD it isn’t a business.  Not in the same sense that you would talk about Apple or Microsoft, Google or Facebook.   Sure, there are places in the DoD that need this kind of aggressive process where you can change late in the game (dynamically) but for the most part, building software and systems in and for the DoD is a long process with reason.   When I was on board the USS Mount Whitney, they would push back ships movement for electronic updates and changes.   The reason is that software right out of the gate hardly ever does what it needs to do, it takes time and planning.  Even then there are great challenges, the problem here is that we need to be an agile defense force and that means we shouldn’t be held back because some developer forgot a line of code and needs to just do a quick update.   Remember early and often in the DoD results in confusion and delay.   Imagine for a minute that you plan a trip and that you are going to fly to your destination.  While aboard the plane the pilot informs you that you will be arriving early due to some great tail winds.    Even without any other changes, how many passengers were just adversely impacted?  Getting somewhere early isn’t always the right answer.   Changing up software or altering requirements late in the game need significant considerations when dealing with defense systems. 

Deliver working software frequently, from a
couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a
preference to the shorter timescale.

I addressed this earlier with the DIACAP but what I can say is that this process can be made to work if we aren’t delivering software on that same schedule.  In other words, if the developers are way ahead in a development cycle, this can provide testers an opportunity to really put the software through very comprehensive and stringent testing.   That would work, as long as the production cycle was consistent. 

Business people and developers must work
together daily throughout the project.

Yes and no, see my earlier comment on meetings.  I have been involved with agile project management in the DoD one way or another for a few years now, I haven’t seen a 10-15 minute meeting situation that is consistent.   Anyone that tells you otherwise, get me his or her number, we need to learn from them.  Also, who are business people?  Are developers just a bunch of hipsters hanging out smoking doobs and drinking energy drinks?  Are they spending 20 minutes coding and then heading to the gym for hours?  Developers ( a lot of them) are business people.    I think it is fair to say that   agile can learn a little from SOA concepts where they are more specific about who is working together on what and for what purpose. 

Build projects around motivated individuals.
Give them the environment and support they need,
and trust them to get the job done.

I LOVE this principle and it should be number 1!  TRUST is key.  

Trust is the foundation of every aspect of business any business end to end.  There is no other single more important factor.   Of course there are other things that are needed but without trust work cannot and will not succeed.   

The most efficient and effective method of
conveying information to and within a development
team is face-to-face conversation.

That is so 2001.  Quote me. 

The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is to develop, facilitate, nurture, maintain trusted relationships.  Provide the methods and tools required to access your trusted agents, and have faith in them.  Be available to them and provide them with clear “COMMANDERS INTENT”!

The paradox of war in the Information Age is one of managing massive amounts of information and resisting the temptation to overcontrol it. The competitive advantage is nullified when you try to run decisions up and down the chain of command. All platoons and tank crews have real-time information on what is going on around them, the location of the enemy, and the nature and targeting of the enemy’s weapons system. Once the commander’s intent is understood, decisions must be devolved to the lowest possible level to allow these front line soldiers to exploit the opportunities that develop. —General Gordon Sullivan, quoted in ‘Delivering Results’ by David Ulrich

You might say ….. WAIT A SECOND HOWIE!!!! What are you saying?  First you talk about all this DoD requirement mumbo jumbo then you say “Commanders Intent”!!!  Isn’t that an oxymoron?

Nope.  Commanders intent gives us the overall mission, vision, scope, objective and timelines.   It gives product owners, developers, management, leaders the ability to execute at their level.   Commanders intent isn’t a free for all but what it does is provide enough information to give groups leeway to make decisions as they need to in order to accomplish the greater goal with less frequent communication.  I can provide examples if needed but just off the hip look at Boeing manufacturing the 787.

Working software is the primary measure of progress.

Successful implementation and usage is the primary measure of progress. 

Agile processes promote sustainable development.
The sponsors, developers, and users should be able
to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.

While running a marathon or any other race for that matter is it usual that some fall back and cluster in groups and some pull ahead.   The thought process that everyone can keep up with everyone is mind-boggling.   I can barely keep up with my children! 

Continuous attention to technical excellence
and good design enhances agility.

Love it.. 

Simplicity–the art of maximizing the amount
of work not done–is essential.

Yeah I like maximizing stuff I haven’t done.  Called the “honey do list”  for some reason it continues to grow no matter what I do to attack it.  Wonder why? 

The best architectures, requirements, and designs
emerge from self-organizing teams.

What happens when the team is forced to do something because a dumb ass is working in it?  Everyone works around Billy dee dumb ass? Not realistic.   The best architectures, requirements and designs emerge from good leadership, good listening, clear direction, good followership  and people working together to fight “the dumb”! 

At regular intervals, the team reflects on how
to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts
its behavior accordingly.

At the beach! So.. I meet on Monday-Friday with you and both of us haven’t changed our behavior through any of those meetings but on some other regular interval we are going to come together and adjust?  How about constant feedback?  How about open honest dialogue?  How about trust?  

I am arguing that agile must be tempered by context.   I am arguing that it isn’t a panacea but a practice.  You know your doctor “practices medicine” and we still have the common cold.  

Software development and systems engineering include systems integration and goal oriented objectives.   Oh yeah, it is about PEOPLE !

Be agile and be realistic.

Cloud Computing Professional

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