Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Insights from Southwest

Southwest Airlines is an exceptional company. They are the only U.S. airline to have made money every year since 1973 (since 1978, 120 other airlines have gone bankrupt). Southwest has consistent market share of at least 60% in almost every nonstop city-pair market it serves. Southwest has the best customer service record in the airline industry and is the only carrier in the U.S. to win the industry's "Triple Crown" - baggage handling, on-time performance and customer complaints. Southwest has a turnover ratio of 6.4 percent, one of the lowest in the industry, and was listed in the top 10 best companies to work for in America.

Several interesting quotes from Nuts! Southwest Airlines Crazy Recipe for Business and Personal Success:
  • When people work really hard for something they believe in, a special bond inevitably develops between them.
  • "Most companies fail in their growth because they don't have a vision." Howard Putnam, former Southest CEO.
  • "Market share has nothing to do with profitability. Market share says we just want to be big; we don't care if we make money doing it. In order to get an additional 5 percent of the market, some companies increased their costs by 25 percent. That's really incongruous if profitability is your purpose." Herb Kelleher, former Southwest CEO
  • "We'll train you on whatever it is you have to do, but the one thing Southwest cannot change in people is inherent attitudes." Kelleher
  • Southwest was, in the words of Gary Barron, chief operations officer, "nimble, quick, and opportunistic." How did Southwest get that way? Whenever possible, Southwest flies in the face of bureaucracy: it stays lean, thinks small, keeps it simple."

Monday, November 21, 2005

Imagination and Tradition

This quote was recently shared by a pastor.

Imagination continually frustrates tradition, that is it's function. - John Pfeiffer

Perhaps based on this, I can expect resistence from traditionalists, operations-centric people, structure and consistency-oriented people. Perhaps I should even see the joy in that imagination is at work when people are frustrated with newness or "that's not how its been done."

I just don't know how much effort and time to spend trying to open people's minds, or help them shift their paradigms...

Friday, October 14, 2005

Putting Yourself at Risk: The Price of Leadership

Notes from The Leadership Summit 2oo5:

Session 4: Putting Yourself at Risk: The Price of Leadership, Eleanor Josaitis and Curtis Sliwa

Session 4 was an interview with Eleanor Josaitis and Curtis Sliwa. Bill Hybels introduced the session by saying that"leaders will always, always, always pay a price."

Eleanor Josaitis, Chief Executive Officer and Co-founder of Focus:HOPE, began interview by saying leaders need and are marked by passion, persistence, and partnerships. As far as opposition, she said "You have to outsmart 'em."

For her challenges, she used the approach:
  1. Meet the need, focusing on efficiency and specifications
  2. Solve the problem
Criticism. Eleanor's response to criticism is "You can either deck 'em or out class 'em. And then work twice as hard." During times of criticism, her colleague would give her a penny, reminding her that "in God we trust."

Curtis Sliwa, Founder and leader of the Guardian Angels, said it was about being the "first, not the best" and recognizing that the "problem is our own." He would ask people, "How are you making a difference?" and challenge them with the "grander vision."

He added that in society "we lost the idealism," the belief that we can make a difference.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Seeing the Unseen

Notes from The Leadership Summit 2oo5:

Session 3: Seeing the Unseen, Mosa Sono

Mosa Sono started out by noting how good it is for leaders to take time out to learn and grow.

Sono, from South Africa, said that leaders are called to continuously see the unseen. There will always be opposition, but know that God will see us through. Mosa said there is a saying in South Africa, "If the rooster doesn't crow, the dawn still comes." We need to stay hopeful, because "hope deferred makes the heart sick." We need to embrace the future, we can't settle. "Wherever you are is better than where you've been." He summarized this point by saying that leaders should be bold, strategic, humble and informed.

Sono also explained that we need to empathize with our people. He said that if we do not understand the needs of the people, if we can not speak their language of suffering, then we will give a prescription not asked for. We will "scratch where there is no itch."

conversely, Sono said everybody must do their part. It is the leader who must be seized by a vision, but we as leaders must engage the minds of others, show how they can be involved. We need to move people away from a dependence mentality, as if someone else will solve their problems for them. Sono gave examples from the bible where God helped many people only after He had them take the first step (roll away the stone, fill the jars with water, throw the net on the other side of the water, step out of the boat into the water).

This certainly ties into my previous post where the worker needs to be the change he or she wants to see. Even more, from Sono's perspective, the leader cultivates this in his people, calling for initiative and moving those asking for change to become stakeholders themselves. Perhaps it is that step without seeing, that personal investment, that helps the vital hope and trust in the organization grow.

I found another good review of Sono's session on Jeff Mikel's blog here.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Leadership Is Stewardship

Notes from The Leadership Summit 2oo5:

Session 2: Leadership is Stewardship, Rick Warren

The key point from the second session of The Leadership Summit was that our job or position at work can be our identity, income and influence.
And this very thing we hold on to so tightly is what we need to lay down. Our purpose at work goes far beyond the several paragraphs on the job description from Human Resources. It isn't strictly tasks and responsibilities. It is even more than motivating employees to make them more productive (turning Production Capability into Productivity - Steven Covey, 7 Habits).

Warren mentioned the difference between The Reformation, centered around creed and beliefs, and what he said we needed now - The Second Reformation, focused on deeds and behavior. What I take from this is that the software development professional has no lack of access to good software development lifecycle models, documented best practices and supporting metrics, consensus on modeling languages, and excellent development and network tools. We have an abundance of current international information sharing and technical, editorial and business-oriented topics. We lack in no way for knowledge of what is right, and my experience is that most IT workers believe in the same sense of the 'right way' to do what we do each day. Many willingly share extensively on what they think is wrong in their workplace and in the industry. Sometimes they even share ideas for solutions, what needs to be done.

What we lack is action.

If we already know what needs to be done, then what we need is deeds and behavior. We say "design first," but begin coding the first day with any design forethought at all (even the process-light XP gives design effort 20 minutes). We say complain about things, but often don't bring suggestions. Even if we do bring solution options, we don't take initiative or give effort to implement them ourselves.

So we don't like the SLDC we have, do we research options and give supporting information in the language of management (more efficient, cost-effective, higher-quality)? So we don't like the specs we are given, do we provide specific feedback to the author? Don't like the tasks we are given, so we do them exceptionally so as to earn the right to ask for something different?

For all the talk about management's shortcomings, other team's shortcomings, the company's shortcomings, our tool's and technology's shortcomings, I rarely see someone who feels passionately about specific issues working diligently to make a difference. It sounds abhorrently trite, but I mean it with all seriousness, "talk is cheap." It is easy. It costs us nothing. And often we feel better, for a moment, thinking that everything would be better if someone else did something about it. As I recently read, "Be the change you want to see."

As a manager, I feel I am asked to lay down the very position I have been given. Lay down my identity, income, and influence for the sake of the cause I believe in. Warren gave the example of Moses and his shepherds staff. The staff was a symbol of identity (shepherd's staff), income (that is what he used to tend the sheep and make his money), and influence (the staff itself was used to pull or push the sheep by the hook or the crook). The story from The Bible is that God told Moses to lay down his staff. When Moses did, it turned into a snake. God made it come alive. If I lay down my position, put myself second, perhaps my purpose will truly come alive as well.

Warren said that "prominence does not equal significance." We make a difference, are significant as leaders, no matter what position we hold (or don't hold). He also noted that the key aspects of the character of a leader are courage, endurance, and optimism. It takes these three character traits to make a difference day in and day out.

Finally, Warren added that the directive Jesus gave the disciples when going into towns to share the message was that they were to "find the man of peace." The man of peace was someone 1) open and 2) influential. This person didn't even have to believe the same as the disciples. This idea came as new to me and caused me to rethink how I work with others to bring about the change I believe needs to occur. These people don't need to see things the way I do. They just need to be open. And, for the sake of the cause, I need to invest time with open people who are influential. What I need to move away from is spending excessive time with those who already see things the way I do and who are not influential in bringing these changes about.

Although it seems a somewhat cold and calculated way of spending time and connecting with others at work, perhaps the uninfluential person who sees things the way I do would be happy with the end result of positive change in the workplace? Then, instead of jawwing about all the shortcomings we see, we could talk about how good it is to see genuine positive changes occuring in our workplace. And our job as leaders, though Human Resources didn't quite capture it, is to be doers, contributing catalysts of change with courage, endurance and optimism - good stewards of our influence and authority.

Friday, August 19, 2005

The Leader's State of Mind

Notes from The Leadership Summit 2oo5:

Session 1: The Leader's State of Mind, Bill Hybels
What precedes vision? For Bill Hybel's, it is what he called a "holy discontent," some issue or cause we can't stand to see left in its current state. This "furnace of frustration" becomes part of our purpose. Along the way to resolving this issue, a leader casts vision for others, builds a team, inspires and developers others, leads change, and intercepts intropy.

A key point of the session was pessimism vs. faith-based optimism. As bad as the current situation might be, leaders cannot let hope die. For me, there are correlations between what his points and my preious post.

Hybels also said several specific items that struck me. One, the cause can't afford my pride. To me, this means I need to not get in the way with what I think is best if the group conscious doesn't think so, or differs somewhat. Secondly, I don't need everything to be my idea. I didn't realize this was why I wasn't also happy for someone else when they came up with a clever idea, or made headway with an idea I had thought of (whether I told anyone or not) previously. Another reminder was to "engage team members more deeply." Even the term "deeply" made me reflect that these are people on my team, not simply task completers. Hybels also warned against grandstanding and "turf protection," two areas I know I have to watch myself.

The biggest impact from this session for me was understanding that my frustrations with specific situations at work are the very spark for leading change. Don't ignore them, don't medicate them away. Let them drive change, all while walking the fine line of staying hopeful about the eventual outcome.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Welcoming Reality: The Furious Indifference to Our Cause

For all my talk, I weekly come back to the question "So how do we put this into effect here where I work?" It is not uncommon for those in IT to rarely see the ideal solution, method or process actually put into practice.

Recently I've seen the confluence of, at first glance, unrelated items. When seen holistically, though, these items point to what I feel is at the heart of leading change in the workplace.

You Need to Fight, but Fight Right

"A soldier surrounded by enemies, if he is to cut his way out, needs to combine a strong desire for living with a strange carelessness about dying. He must not merely cling to life, for then he will be a coward, and will not escape. He must not merely wait for death, for then he will be a suicide, and will not escape. He must seek his life in a spirit of furious indifference to it; he must desire life like water and yet drink death like wine." - G.K. Chesterton

In business terms, a leader is surrounded by all the reasons things don't change in their workplace. If he is to succeed in making a difference, he needs to combine a strong desire to keep his job and favor with his boss and colleagues with a strange carelessness about being fired. He must not merely worry about keeping his job and what those in influential positions think of him, for then he will be a coward, fearful, and he will not make a difference. He must not merely wait to be fired - saying things and taking actions that communicate not caring about being fired or about what his boss or those in influential positions think of him, for then he will be fired and he will not make a difference. He must seek to make a difference in a spirit of furious indifference to whether he actually succeeds in creating change.

First, we must decide that we're going to fight to make a difference. This is the "strong desire for living." Making a difference takes effort, commitment, determination, and often much more physically and emotionally exhausting than just accepting a substandard environment.

Second, we realize and accept that making a difference is a desire, not a goal. Desires are what we strive for, goals are what we can actually achieve. Often, people and circumstances get in the way of what we hope to achieve. If they get in the way of goals, we can become frustrated, angry, resentful. With desires, it is easier to accept failing to attain the end result in its entirety - not getting closure. This helps one to keep from reacting. Instead, they respond. The focus is on the action(s) or logical argument(s) in question positions being discussed, not the people themselves having the dialog.

Third, we find a way to put ourselves second to the cause and the possible consequences of advocating the cause. This is the "strange carelessness about dying." We stop looking out for "#1" - ourselves, as paramount. I haven't found a way to be effective in making a difference when I am thinking of myself first because I keep getting in the way. That is, while trying to convince someone of my point, fear and doubt keep me thinking in the back of my mind, "What if they think this is a truly bad idea? If they did, would they communicate that to my boss? What then would he think of me?" At times, I become competitive. I approach discussions where a decision outcome will occur as a zero-sum game where if I don't win, I'll lose. In these cases, I must win because if I don't, I'll appear weak, foolish, less-than, that my ideas aren't sound. This emotional reaction can be especially strong in a public forum, such as meeting or an email thread with many recipients.

These three points are simple, but not easy. Making a change to the way things are done involves other people. We are interdependent in all but the smallest IT organizations. And it is our interactions and relationships with these people (and their attitudes, beliefs, understanding, motives, agendas) that are principally the challenge.

If You Want a Queen, You Have to Be a King

There's a saying in courtship that if you want a Queen, you have to be a King. This means that if we want a certain reality, we have to be the type of person deserving of that reality. We have to be a person of character if we are to expect a working environment where there is good, healthy interdependence and commonality.

Creating the unity necessary to run an effective business... Requires great personal strength and courage. No amount of technical administrative skill in laboring for the masses can make up for the lack of nobility or personal character in developing relationships.

In addition, we can see on an even deeper level that effective interdependence can only be achieved by truly independent people. It is impossible to achieve Public Victory with popular "Win/Win negotiation" techniques or "reflective listening" techniques or "creative problem-solving" techniques that focus on personality and truncate the vital character base. - pp 202, 203; The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Steven Covey

The combination of these two quotes from recent reading and my concerns on how to truly create change in our IT department occurred as I reviewed a document this week. It was a going-away present for a coworker. This coworker is widely viewed as an exceptional and very well respected senior level developer in our organization. The gift was a list comprised of individual submissions from his colleagues of the positive traits they saw in him. For all his wealth of technical and intellectual talent, by far the most common items in the list were "patience", "persistence", "friendly", "helpful", "giving." After working alongside him for a year, I had been mistaking the dominant reason he was so effective. It was because of his character, who he is. He was a great worker because he was a great person.

To be change agents, we need to commit to the cause, let ourselves be second, hold on to what we want with open hands, and have the kind of character which nourishes good relationships (and effectiveness) with our coworkers.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

The Architecture and Technology Council

Upon review, I found a fair number of our software projects over the last year came in late, over budget or failed for reasons that attention to architecture could have prevented. We have been unable until recently to get approval for Architects as a position. Even now, we only have one and he is on the smallest development team and so has limited sphere of influence.

So, how to address this gap? Build an Architecture and Technology Council. This council will have one representative from each of our development teams. I can see several benefits to having this council.

Culture: the existence alone of a council brings attention, discussion and, likely, validation that architecture and technology is of significant importance to the success of our projects. More dialogs will open up between technical, project and business teams. The business will see a significant expression of concern for IT's goal for effectiveness and adding value. Project stakeholders and key players might pause to consider if they are taking into consideration concerns published by this council whose focus is project success.

People: the mere existence of a council raises the bar. Council members are acting on the belief that they can make a difference, that we can be change agents. Other IT workers see an example of leadership that is difficult to write off as positional, political or purely based on length of service because these members are selected by their peers. The council is encouraging because shows an avenue of personal and career growth where the technical worker doesn't have to give up their technical role for a management role.

Process: we begin finding a way to address the issues we all agree are issues. The existence of the council gives a moment to confront our classic mistakes, examine our processes and review opportunities for best practices.

The road ahead is not that clear to me at this moment. I think the Council should regularly go through a lessons-learned dissection of a failed or flawed project from the past. I think we should come up with a suggestion for a technology and architecture road map for our organization that addresses their strategy (platform, tools, languages, architecture). From a process view, we should determine where and how checks are executed to prevent IT from doing something to repeat a mistake when we have learned the lesson. These process checks should also keep us from diverging from the road map.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Moving IT from Victim to Visionary Advisor and Vehicle for Progress

Two consistent patterns I've seen in IT shops are:
1) Being order takers, rarely bringing innovative solutions to the business and often unaware of what their problems are unless told
2) Feeling like victims, unable to do what we feel is best due to lack of resources (time, people, or money).

How do we move from victim to visionary adviser and a vehicle for progress towards supporting and empowering the business' strategy?

For my current situation, I'm going to do a cost-benefit analysis to show how a content-management solution should save the time of at least five people, as well as get us off the hook for guaranteeing quality on a business process we can't control. From there, I'm requesting my team members to give me a list of the the trouble-spots as they see them and go from there.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Knowing that You Don't Know

Although the matrix is used for other purposes, the Known-Unknown matrix in this article from Intelligent Enterprise has been useful to me for many purposes.

Most recently, I'm trying to see what fits in which quadrants as we try to migrate from a third-party mission-critical application to a custom-developer in-house application on a widely-adopted and open platform.

The next step I'd like information on is "How do move forward when you know that you don't know all the issues?"

Thursday, March 17, 2005

The Five Core Metrics of the Software Development Process

I did some searching on the internet, and went through the chapter on Measurement in my well-worn Rapid Development, but still didn't have a small starter list of metrics for our software development efforts at work. What I found was Five Core Metrics: The Intelligence Behind Successful Software Management, and it has been great. The authors' five core metrics are size, productivity, time, effort, and reliability.

"We can represent any kind of work activity by a statement such as the following:
People, working at some level of productivity, produce a quantity of function or a work product at a level of reliability by the expenditure of effort over a time interval."

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Pair Programming Benefits

We are taking a crack at Pair Programming to see if we can get some of the same Pair Programming Benefits that I've seen reported.

Interestingly, most of the developers are excited about it. Personally, I see the increased motivation and energy alone as a valuable intangible.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Personality Types and Effectiveness

A good number of employees here, including myself, have just completed training given by Management By Strengths. Very enlightening.

I have yet to hear what employees are to do who do not have the dominant personality type, but want their ideas heard. The coaching from MBS was to 'talk the language' of the recipient's personality type. It would seem, though, that those with the same personality type as their manager have a natural advantage over those who do not. If a manager is a dominant type, prefers face-to-face, results-orientated communication, he may likely not give equal credence to input from those preferring email, or unassuming presentation of ideas, groupthink.