28 July 2008

Lady Tech, Be Thyself: Authenticity As An ‘IT Girl’

Cheryl Croce

Cheryl Croce
Sr. Consultant
Veris Associates, Inc.

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I read two interesting articles over the weekend. They could not have been from more different sources, nor could they have been more interconnected. One was from the May-June 2008 edition of Psychology Today called Dare To Be Yourself. The other was the August 2008 Wired Magazine cover story, Internet Famous: Julia Allison and the Secrets of Self-Promotion. In Dare To Be Yourself, it is noted the basic psychological needs are competence, a sense of relatedness, and acting in accordance with one’s core self or, being authentic. In the Wired Magazine article, the Machiavellian subject pictures herself as the main character of a magazine profile, establishes her story through random blog/Twitter postings and in-person appearances at various ‘important people’ functions, then builds her internet street cred with every response from fans and haters.

There’s a part of me that appreciates Ms. Allison’s moxie. She understands the game of being famous and plays it like an expert. She certainly tapped into at least two of her psychological needs – relating and competence – to be successful in accomplishing her goal of being a cult figure. I leave the authentic part up for debate; while I think she’s mastered the art of promotion, I’m not quite sure if she’s promoting herself or the persona she wants her public to know.

The two articles made me think about my career in IT. I work as an IT infrastructure consultant. The majority of my counterparts and customer sponsors are men. Don’t get me wrong: I dig working with the men folk. I’ve not only learned a great deal about the process, politics, bits and bytes of information technology, but I am now relatively up-to-speed on all things sports. (Although, Ultimate Fighting still eludes me.)

I’m happy to say I’ve had good female IT role models, too. I’ve learned a lot from them and it’s wonderful to have colleagues who understand the ups and downs of the IT sisterhood.

Geekdom Stigma

However, while overall employment rates in IT rose in 2006 from 2000, the number of women employed in IT has dropped almost eight percent. It’s a little disheartening to think the sisterhood is declining. Anecdotally speaking, there are a few reasons women are leaving or choosing other paths. Some say it’s a cultural issue. Historically, IT has not been generally known for its flexibility, which is important for working mothers. Some say it’s the image IT promotes. I know this is shocking, but there are many women who do not want to emulate the persona of guys with pocket protectors who can quote episodes of Monty Python and Dr. Who verbatim. (Although, I am a staunch Lost fan and feed the frenzy among my co-workers and customers who also watch.)

In other words, these items in the IT world conflict with women’s needs to be true to themselves.

How Do You Relate To IT As A Woman?

So, what if you are a woman who enjoys the challenge of what IT has to offer? How do you relate to the “it’s cool to be a nerd” environment? How do you remain true to yourself in a culture that doesn’t necessarily scream female-friendly?

It’s not a question of competence – because you know you can do the job. It’s a matter of having that sense of community and of being happy as a woman in a male environment without giving up what it is to be you.

Wondering how to do that? Here are a few guidelines:

• Learn the game. Know the rules of engagement before you act – or react. IT shops can be frustrating if you don’t understand the players, the work practices or the politics. Reduce that frustration with observation, understanding the way you learn and work, asking questions and your role as it relates to the company’s objectives and the department’s needs.

• Embrace the IT Sisterhood – and Brotherhood. If you are feeling like you are stuck or in a rut, remember there are other women – and men - who have been there, done that and still wear the battle scars. Consequently, become part of the experiential and knowledge collective and share what you know with other colleagues. It makes for a great support system.

• Find your bliss. Don’t try to be something you are not. When you know IT is for you, don’t be discouraged if the IT shop you are in originally doesn’t match up to whom you are and who you want to be. IT is a beautiful thing in that you can go everywhere and anywhere with the profession.

I wasn’t sure IT was the right gig for me when it first found me. After a few years in the industry, I discovered the joy and beauty of process in IT services. Process development feeds my need to have daily work challenges and to be creative. For other women who I know, there’s nothing sexier than database development and administration, or building applications, or creating new web spaces, or developing web portals, or providing ITIL best practices training. It’s all about finding what’s right for you. It doesn’t necessarily have to be what people in non-IT fields define as an IT career.

• Feed the passion. Once you’ve found your bliss, don’t stop there. Read industry white papers, magazine articles and books. Register for classes. Find an IT networking group, whether it’s a formal organization or one you’ve established with your work colleagues.


It’s not about gender but about who you are that matters. Find your passion and pursue it. Whether you build applications, develop process, or work directly in the data center, do what you love. It’s true in any field but even truer in IT – if you stop growing, it becomes mundane and the little things begin to bug you. Embrace the bliss, reach out to others in your field, and make IT work for you.

What Do You Think

Let me know how you feel or what you think. Let me see your opinion. If you’re a woman or a man and this resonates with you – or if you disagree - voice an opinion. Hit the comment button below.

16 July 2008

Building the IT Process Framework – Part 1 - PMO Pitfalls

Neal Leininger

Neal Leininger
Project Management Consultant
Veris Associates, Inc.

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As a technology consultant working in and around technology for over a decade, I’ve seen my share of false starts and good intentions being driven to the end of long dark alleys to be put out of their misery. Due to confusion, redirections and busyness of daily life, valid ideas are driven into oblivion.

The concept of a successful Project Management Office (PMO) rings near and dear to my heart. However, many of today’s process frameworks have interdependencies woven so tightly I find it indistinguishable when departing from one methodology and into another. Which one or two . . . or three or more should the PMO use?

This article is the first in a series to clarify the limits, purposes and blending of four frameworks as they relate to the PMO:

  • ITIL
  • CobiT
  • SixSigma
  • SDLC
Q: So what makes the perfect PMO?

A: Boy, talk about a loaded question. Process implementations are a lot like beauty, much belies the eye of the beholder.

For those who have worked in the software industry for any amount of time, we recognize the old adage “Fail Early, Fail Fast, Fail Often.” I think that summarizes the best approach for a PMO and process improvement in general. (One hint: learn from the failure, don’t repeat it.)

Perfect is a four letter word in most production engineering departments, meaning: Perfect never ships. At the end of the day, we all are very imperfect animals, trying to build very perfect processes. The quickest distance between two points is failure. Only by failing do we learn the true weaknesses and stress points identified. It’s about keeping ourselves accountable to the process, no matter how gruesome the image is in the mirror.

Q: What About Overzealous Advocates?
A common approach for most PMO implementations is to “reign in” the factions causing chaos within IT and putting policies in place that are not conducive to the typical business environment.

A: Walk a mile in their shoes: Make it everyone’s PMO. A true PMO is guided by the principle that made all great teams work together - “what’s in it for me.” Regardless of how unpleasant those factions may be, use the friction to weld them together. Heat makes two pieces of metal one, cleanses the surface and prepares it for another wave of improvements whether it is a complete refinish or some touch-up on the glazing.

Q: What About Overloading the Process?

Even a good process fails under over-utilization. Even though it seems like a good idea at the time, ramping up too quickly slows you down. It starts to feel like you’re fighting a counter-insurgency battle as the plights and wailings of overburdened process users fire emails at you at an alarming rate. These resistance emails seek exceptions and various special accommodations because, after all, their application, project or process is “special.”

A: Start simple and stay accountable. The measure of a process isn’t how fast or big it is. The process’ efficiencies, effectiveness and compliance to the framework win in the end. The visible success of the process encourages others and moves the organization to the next level of process implementation. As the adage says, “Nothing breeds success like success.”

Q: “Kill Switch”-ophobia

One of the telling metrics for a PMO is its kill rate: the rate at which projects are rejected or “killed.” It’s often too easy for a technology department to say “YES” every time there is a request made. The measure of the alignment between the business and a technology department is evident as you examine the kill rate and the justifications behind it.

A: Start simple and kill things. This isn’t an advertisement for the NRA. By failing early, fast and often, you learn a lot by understanding the issues that caused you to stumble. Even if it means creating a PMO request that you know will be killed, go through the exercise and understand the process: engage the business and understand their true alignments. Set criteria and provide evidence for projects to survive or die. Set a metric on the kill rate.

By walking through the process with a very simple, controllable example, you build the template for those un-imaginably complex projects that need to be killed. Remember, not all projects get killed at the request stage. Prepare for killing those “woefully poor initiatives that just aren’t going according to plan.”

Understand several facts:
  • Killing projects sooner than later saves tremendous money and effort.
  • Any project can be killed at any stage.
  • Unsuccessful or never-ending projects impact morale, other projects, budgets and your credibility – your most important asset.
  • Before recommending a project cancellation, do your due-diligence, have all evidence organized, readily accessible and in front of you. While Superman could stop a speeding bullet with his teeth, only your hard, cold facts stop the one fired at you.
  • A high kill-rate is good. Some companies are aiming for 66%! A low kill-rate can mean two different things: you’re letting too many projects through or your not keeping up with the changing business with improvements.
Warning: Beware of the landmines – those special pet projects of someone who has major, impacting power on your career. These types of projects must be handled with special detail. Before suggesting a pet project be cancelled, conduct a full study with extra detail and evidence as to why it should die. We should never back away from killing such a project, but our reasoning must be mine-proof, otherwise, you will blow-up instead of the project.

It has been said, "Buy into a business that's doing so well an idiot could run it because sooner or later, one will." I think that rings very true to the embodiment of a successful PMO. If it’s not easily understood or articulated, then the PMO “Governance” will be jeopardized and those who truly believe in the concept will struggle explaining it to their customers, and subsequently, stop speaking at all.

  • Keep it simple, make it easy enough for an idiot to understand because, well you finish the sentence.
  • Kill it, in order for us to say “YES” we must be willing to say “NO”; and mean it.
  • Start small and simple, which is how we learn best. After we’re comfortable with simple arithmetic, we can throw some extra zeros on the end and start talking about calculus.
  • Seek friction and make the best of it. Nothing beats free heat.
  • Don’t cripple the business, they need to keep the lights on too. Engage them in the policy framework so they buy-in in from the beginning.
  • It won’t be perfect the first time. . .or the tenth time. It’s a living process and the better we get at failing, the faster we can close that gap with perfection.

In our next article, we cover how IT framework methodologies are blended to minimize organizational confusion and optimize operational efficiency.

Veris Associates, Inc. offers training in Project Management and IT Service Management methodologies. See our calendar of events for specific times and places.

Copyright (c) Veris Associates, Inc. Unauthorized use is strictly prohibited. Comments contents are the opinions of the person posting the comment (commenter) and not necessarily those or endorsed by Veris Associates, Inc. Veris Associates, Inc. reserves the right to remove any and all comments it wishes without any recourse of the commenter. Decision of Veris Associates, Inc. is final.

Getting Control of IT Shared Services - Utility Services Part 1

Cheryl Croce

Cheryl Croce
Sr. Consultant
Veris Associates, Inc.

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In this first article of a series of five, the author explores how to relieve three of the nine common pain points associated with Infrastructure request fulfillment. By doing so, companies can transform infrastructure request fulfillment from a checklist activity to an organizational strategic asset – request fulfillment as a utility service.

Start at the Beginning! Making Requests Make Sense

Did you ever notice it’s the little things that create the biggest impact? That’s the way our clients and prospective customers feel when it comes to Infrastructure Request Fulfillment.

In general, we know we must conduct thorough analyses, provide cost justifications and maintain the allotted budgets for larger projects. However, it’s the requests that stem from daily operational needs and organizational growth that come as the big surprise at the end of the budget year - things for which project allocations do not account.

The IT Pain Points

In the white paper,
The Games We Play: Conquering the Challenge of IT Request Fulfillment, we identified the following common pain points Infrastructure teams and management experience when it comes to request fulfillment:

Shock to the System: The multiple ways in which Infrastructure teams receive requests - e-mails, telephone calls, taps on the shoulder, and help desk tickets.

“Needs” Brain Freeze: When customers forget there might be rules when they want it and they want it now.

Request Definition Wish Bone: Many customers don’t get what they want or need, because the requirements of the request were not collected or provided.

Purchasing Apple: That lump in your throat may be the realization you’ve overspent on purchases for equipment and third-party services.

Spare Parts: You didn’t realize you had the part already in stock. Or, there’s a part you’ve purchased that’s gone bad and you have no idea where you’ve installed it or what the serial number is for it.

“Architect’s” Elbow: Your technical team’s elbow grease is gone, because they’ve expended it. And you have no idea how, when or why. Change Management is missing from the equation.

Testing Butterflies in the Stomach: Testing is such a fundamental activity within System Development Lifecycle, because in general there are test labs. That’s not the case a lot of times with infrastructure related requests. So, a “let’s try this and hope it works” approach may be used when rolling new components into production.

Writing Communications Cramp: As much as we are connected (you might be reading this on your BlackBerry device or iPhone), it’s interesting we’re still not communicating.

Broken Hearts All Around: Customers look at the end result and say, “That’s not what I wanted. Now what do we do?” And when they say “we” they really mean you, which equates to re-work and exhausted, cranky staff.

Perhaps some of you now are nodding your heads, as these items may look familiar to you. Share your experiences with us: What have you seen in your workplace?

Most IT teams are deluged with requests through different means, and a lot of times this concept is not acknowledged. For example, when we interviewed individuals at a client site about how requests were received, we heard different responses. The CIO told us all requests came through the company’s help desk system. The staff members, on the other hand, told us they received requests not only from the help desk system, but also by e-mail, phone call, taps on the shoulder, hallway conversations, and internal meetings with their IT counterparts.

The Requests Cometh

The requests obtained outside the help desk ticket system are often quickly scribbled on post-it notes and in notebooks.

This ad-hoc repository causes three issues:

Inability to Prioritize Work is Shocking! Managers have no true view of where their team members are engaged, and therefore they assume they are free for major projects. As a result, managers didn’t understand why they have low morale or higher turnover, and team members are frustrated their managers don’t understand how to prioritize the workloads to meet customers’ demands.

We Know You Want It Now, But Is the Request Valid? Then there’s the question of whether a request is valid at all. We live in an “I want it now” society. We blink and technology is obsolete. We blink and our company has decided to go in a different direction. Now. Not tomorrow. Not when you can get to it. But now. That’s a difficult expectation to manage for IT. IT is a multiple personality. There’s the side of IT that needs to maintain its architectural integrity and protect its structure from changes that do not make sense for the environment. Then there’s the other side where customer service and fulfilling customer needs is inherent. How do you say no when clearly a request is a square peg in a round hole?

Request Definition - What Was That Middle Part? When IT team members are eventually able to get to the requests recorded outside the help desk system, they generally remember the broad scope of the request. However, there’s only so much memory can provide in terms of understanding what the requirements are. Depending on where the request came from and from whom, team members may be less inclined to go back to ask questions and instead, knock the request off their list of things to do. The end result of this approach is low customer satisfaction.

Fixing the Pain Points

How do you fix these pain points? We recommend the following:

Start At The Beginning. Establish a single point of entry into your request fulfillment process. No exceptions.

3 Es - Educate, Empower and Evangelize. At Veris Associates, we love how a good process can make a difference in a customer’s way of working. However, we also acknowledge process isn’t worth a hill of beans if you haven’t incorporated it into an IT organization’s and customer’s culture. Once you’ve established a single point of entry, educate your IT staff – including the CIOs, Directors, and Managers – about the single point of entry. IT Leadership will need to provide customers with communications on this expectation, especially if it is a new concept. As part of this awareness campaign, IT team members must be empowered to steer customers to the single point of entry.

Remove the Square Peg From The Round Hole. As part of the single point of entry, you may want to add questions to help you determine if a request is valid. For example: Is this request tied to a project cost code? Does this request tie to a business objective? Do you have funding? What is the business need? Do you have business and IT Senior Leadership approval?

Talk to Your Customers – They Won’t Bite! You want to know how to mend a customer’s broken heart? TLC – Talking. Learning. Communicating. Time and time again, we see top ten lists come out stating one of the top challenges IT faces is communication with the business. With the single point of entry, a need has been identified by your customers. This is your opportunity to start the conversation and gather information on what the customer wants and needs. If what they need doesn’t align with what was requested, you as the IT expert have the knowledge to provide them with alternative solutions. In the end, your customers appreciate it. You and your team will have a clearer understanding of what’s needed to fulfill their requests.

Make sure you grab a copy of our latest whitepaper: Games We Play - Utility Services with Veris. Simply register and the whitepaper will be sent to you.

Copyright (c) Veris Associates, Inc. Unauthorized use is strictly prohibited. Comments contents are the opinions of the person posting the comment (commenter) and not necessarily those or endorsed by Veris Associates, Inc. Veris Associates, Inc. reserves the right to remove any and all comments it wishes without any recourse of the commenter. Decision of Veris Associates, Inc. is final.

03 July 2008

Classroom Training vs. e-Learning Training

Ron Przywara

Ron Przywara
ITIL Certified Consultant
IT Service Management
Veris Associates, Inc.

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Classroom training vs. e-learning training: In the never-ending drive to get ahead of the curve, which road gets you to where you want to be?

If the decision is made using numbers on a balance sheet the obvious choice would seem to be “e-learning”. The direct cost of distance learning is generally lower than a classroom instructor-led course (average 40%-60% less) and there’s no travel expenses (mileage, hotel, etc.). The choice though is not as simple as the expense. Like any business decision, the cost is an influence, but there are other components in the equation that require consideration. In this article we’ll take a look at some of the components, both positives and challenges, of e-learning and classroom instructor-led training and present you with the information to help you make an informed business decision.

Why training in the first place? Define your goal. What do you want to accomplish with your newly acquired education? Is success measured by a certification, the physical proof of your knowledge? Or is achievement demonstrated by your application of a newly acquired perspective or capability? Perhaps it is a blend of both. The answer to the first question will in part drive the training method you choose.

Objections to Classroom:

Aren’t there books I can read?

There is a great deal of published information available on almost every topic. What is appropriate for your current stage of understanding? What is appropriate for your end-goal? Individuals retain material at different rates, but in general adults follow these retention guidelines:

o Adults retain approximately 20% of what they read
o They retain approximately 50% of what they read and hear
o The retention moves to almost 90% when adults read, hear and actively participate in the material

I’ve had prior experiences with a lousy instructor.

A past experience can have an influence in your decision, but don’t let a single poor instructor be your last memory of the classroom training experience. There are a great deal more instructors who show true passion for their students, the classroom experience and the material.

I can’t be away three (four, five) days away from work.

This is a challenge. The best way to overcome this barrier harkens back to the first question again “What do you expect to get out of training?” If your answer involves any of the following:

o Career advancement
o Improved job performance
o Development of new opportunities

The time away from work is required and involves commitment on your part and probably your company’s commitment. Instructor- led classroom education is a business decision and not a vacation planning event. You and your company have made a commitment to improvement, increased efficiency, greater effectiveness, insert training goal here________.

Objections to e-learning:

I can’t find the time to complete the course.

Sitting in front of a PC regardless of location and reading material can be mentally taxing. The time away from the day-to-day focus of work is real when attempting distance learning. Distance learning requires a level of dedication to complete the material. The course window available to satisfy the time course can usually be stretched over multiple weeks.

It’s boring sitting in front of a PC for hours.

Again, we’re back at the commitment factor. Usually a distance learning course is designed to be completed in a number of shorter, palatable pieces just for this reason. There is generally an approach to the course materials that provides greater activity, visual stimulation or action designed to keep the attention of the student.

Aren’t there books I can read?

There is a great deal of published information available on almost every topic. What is appropriate for your current stage of understanding? What is appropriate for your end-goal? Individuals retain material at different rates, but in general adults follow these retention guidelines:

o Adults retain approximately 20% of what they read
o They retain approximately 50% of what they read and hear
o The retention moves to almost 90% when adults read, hear and actively participate in the material

Every person responds differently to the various communication vehicles used to deliver information. Additionally the use of graphics enhances the written word by stimulating multiple parts of the brain.

A few examples are:
o PowerPoint slide decks (visual)
o Books (visual & tactile)
o Workbooks (visual, tactile feedback)
o Instructor dialog (auditory)
o Electronic quizzes (visual, tactile feedback).

Both classroom instruction and e-learning training utilize a blend of communication delivery mechanisms to capture and maintain the attention of the adult student, ultimately improving long-term content retention.

Classroom instruction offers the ability in real-time to modify the blend of interaction, instruction and stimulation. The scenarios being vocalized by the instructor and the students often enhance the experience and aid in the retention of the material. These dialogues can stimulate practical discussions of the various ways the new knowledge can be applied by the students in daily practice.

There are challenges to the discussion forum. Oblique tangents of discussion or the distraction of non-aligned topics can derail the time management of the course. Experienced instructors manage both the time and direction of the class discussion to the benefit of the attendees in a professional manner.

E-learning courses on the other hand are designed to maintain a focus on the material in a very structured manner. This format requires a controlled educational environment managed by the student. By establishing a dedicated, usually scheduled, time and location, the student provides the appropriate level of isolation to minimize distraction and satisfies their educational needs.

Numerous academic studies show both options can be effective learning experiences with long-term retention of the materials. Now that we’ve reviewed the basic concepts, consider the following questions when making your decision:

o What is your desired goal? What is your plan once you acquire this new skill/knowledge?
o What is the material? Technical? Theoretical? Does it require discussion or is it primarily facts you need to know?
o What past experiences do you have with each delivery method? What about the delivery organization (training company)?
o Where do you feel more comfortable?
o Where do you feel more focused?

Take the time to answer these questions before you make your choice. Whatever way you decide, classroom or e-learning, the most important decision is already made: you want to learn.