Wednesday, September 18, 2013

We all need to predict the future

Sometimes, I find it frustrating to get work estimates from colleagues. It is even more difficult to ask for completion dates. It is indeed a difficult task and basically you don't always know what is involved and it is even more difficult to predict what other work will interfere. However forecasting is a necessary task we all have to do at times.

Not everyone is comfortable with making business decisions, since basically that is what you do. I also found that people sometimes misunderstand the context in which these forecasts are asked. Quite often I have to explain that we are in early stages of a project and that a high variation is acceptable or that giving an estimate is not a commitment to deliver any work by a certain date.

I found that the more technical/operational people are, the more reluctant they are to provide estimates. If they give an answer, they want to be exact and accurate. And that is simply not possible when making forecasts. Specifically when high level estimates are required in the early stages of a project. Technicians prefer to give you an answer when they have completed the job.

However, the more frequent people are involved in estimating, the more forthcoming they will become with volunteering estimates. For example, I had a case where a DBA was very reluctant to specify the tasks that needed to be performed. The project manager came to me in despair saying that the DBA was not willing to contribute.

The way I resolved this was by using my little knowledge of what was required. I wrote this down on the white board and asked for confirmation that this was it. As a true techie, the DBA could not stand any inaccuracies and started correcting me. Initially just the minimal information was contributed. Each time I tried to fill in some gaps of information, this was which again corrected. After a while I had a good list of tasks and started adding the expected effort to each tasks. Again these would be corrected. In later planning exercises the DBA was much more forthcoming and learned to contribute and make his how plans.

Identifying task completion dates is another challenge. In some cases you simply get the answer that there are so many unknowns that it is basically impossible to predict. Even project managers at times tend to come with these arguments in order not to give any form of forecast at all. I disagree since you can usually give a best case and a worst case scenario. For any form of planning this is crucial information.

And don't forget that our CEO's, senior management, sales and marketing people have to make predictions of how our business will go, how much money we will earn and how much expenses we have. The uncertainty and consequences they have to deal with is much higher. If they would stop forecasting, just because they can't predict the exchange rate, what the Chinese or what the government will do, we all would be out of a job in no-time.

So, just make a best guess and know that this is not bad at all since you will use much of your experience whether you are fully aware of it or not. The more you do it, the better, or at least more comfortable, you will become.


 

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Fix the browser back button

I have always found the scripts running on web pages disturbing, but specifically with tablets running over wireless it has become very noticeable that when you go back to the previous page in the browser, these scripts cause a significant delay in rendering the page. I don’t notice it that much on my desktop due to the fixed line connection and the extra computing power, but most of my information consumption is done via tablets where this annoying.

This is specifically the case for newspaper websites, for example, where you click on an article from the home page, read the article and want to go back to the home page to look for other information. A previous web page is in principle cached by your browser. However it generally will check again with the server if there is a new version of the page and it will re-run the scripts on the web page. I suggest that browser makers change this behaviour. If you just visited a web page and go back to it, just show exactly what was in the cache and allow the user to scroll through the page and click on hyperlinks. Don’t check the server. Don’t re-run the scripts.

There will be complaints coming from the marketeers who want to count the return to the page as a second visit and even more when it comes down to dynamic scripts for advertisements. Free information needs to be paid by something, so I am OK with advertisements. But why not just suspend the scripts temporarily while you have left the page and when you return, continue the execution? The browser would need to maintain a run-state of the page and you probably can only do this for a certain number of past pages. Given that an IOS app and a tab of the browser do something similar, we should be able to do this for web pages as well.

If I had anything to say about how to build newspaper websites, I would build them rather differently. Clicking on an article should show the article in a popup so you don’t leave the home page. You read the article, close it and you’re back at your starting point without the need to re-load that page. There are many good technologies to achieve this. In addition, I would use all those cookies that you already have placed in my browser cache to know a bit more of me. Using this information, you should start loading articles that I most likely will view in the background. This will make it a much smoother reading experience. I haven’t followed the latest developments in browser technology and it might be that browser makers may need to include some capabilities for this, though I belief this can be achieved already now.

Furthermore, newspaper makers should be much smarter with targeting content. They probably will tell me to take an (online) subscription, but even as an anonymous recurring visitor you should be able to do something smart. The Sydney Morning Herald should have figured out by now that in the sport section, I never click on a rugby article while often will read the football articles. If they want to earn their money through advertising, they probably like me to visit their website frequently. And for that they will need to provide me with relevant content.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Motivation must come from within (what we can learn from football)

Our PMO manager at work wrote an internal blog post about people in a work situation with an increasing level of enthusiasm for their work. The first having no enthusiasm while the last one was really excited to contribute to God and the greater good. The question was how we all could become as enthusiastic and motivated as this last person.

I don’t have the need to work for God – or the shareholders if you wish. I do want to contribute to the greater good of the company but most of all I like to do a good job for myself and know that I’ve done a great job. But in the end, doing a good job and contributing to the greater good are basically the same. And in the end this will benefit the shareholders.

In the work situation there are always many things that are not going well and we all are very good in complaining about it. You run the risk that you only see the problems and forget the good things that happen.

It reminds me of my son. He is a good football player but currently plays in a team that is under performing – they are on the bottom of the ladder. The team has played some nice football and managed to score enough goals but unfortunately they managed to concede even more. I noticed that my son's performance was not anymore as it was in the beginning of the season. He was obviously getting a bit down of losing each game while putting so much effort in – and as it happened – having to compensate for the weaknesses. The result was that over time he was putting less effort in. Why bother if you are going to lose the game anyway?




So I sat down with him and tried to explain to him that the joy must come from within himself. Regardless of the total outcome, he needed to look at his own performance and if this was good, he should be proud and enjoy what went well. I showed to him (I make the odd video here and there) how he was able to perform better in the past. I knew he had a switch to simply step up.

The next game he had an outstanding game and scored two beautiful goals despite the team losing the game. His coaches and many of the parents complimented him on his performance. On the way home I asked him whether he had enjoyed the game more. Though still disappointed with the loss, the answer was clearly confirmatory.

It is important to celebrate the successes that you have and this celebration can be as simple as positive feedback. By looking at your successes in the past, you can motivate yourself and set yourself and the company up for success.

The PMO manager had another blog post about priming. You can prime yourself for success or failure. My son put in his mind the picture of how he can do well. And he did. At work, it is not much different.

But will others pick up from your motivation? Probably. My son played an excellent game again a week later but I noticed that the striker he pairs up with, worked also extremely hard and I was impressed with his game as well.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Forget the iPad. Surface RT is the new productivity tool.

I never really liked the iPad given the fact that it has limited ability to be productive with. When the Surface RT came out, I thought to give this a try.

The iPad is good for reading emails and websites. But as soon as you create data on it, it is troublesome to bring this into the normal corporate network environment. In the end you are still copying files across, regardless of the fact that you use cloud storage solution such as Drop Box. The problem with IOS is that apps don’t have access to a common file storage and it is not that intuitive to open a file from Drop Box or store an email attachment there.

The early advantage of Apple with its iPad and iPhone makes that Microsoft has an uphill battle to demonstrate that their products can compete or are better. My evaluation is that the Surface RT is a better alternative to the iPad. It still keeps a variety of aspects simple to the user such as the limitation to be able to install apps only via the app store and limitations to fiddle around with the operating system but is open enough to have a file system, provide the classical desktop option and provides you with the full MS Office Suite. In that context, I do belief that the Surface RT, specifically with the new Windows 8.1 release, can change the need of a laptop/iPad combination to a desktop/Surface combination.

Another good reason to move away from the iPhone/iPad is that it does not allow you to specify a reason when you decline a meeting invite. This is rather problematic for the organizer since he does not know whether the person would want to reschedule the meeting or that you do not want to attend full stop. This is a bit of a personal rant, but I find this rather problematic.

Microsoft also provides the Surface Pro, however this is basically an ultrabook with a full OS on it and such with all the supportability issues that come with it. The whole idea is to have something that “just works” and requires little to no support.

Below my evaluation of the Surface RT. You can find many evaluations of the Microsoft Surface RT tablet on the web but I thought it would still be valuable to add my experience to this.

I know this comes across as an advetisement for Microsoft but unfortunately that's the result when you have a positive review of a product. Don't forget that I am still impressed with the way Apple transformed it the industry with the iPhone and iPad.

Dependency on the Microsoft ecosystem.
The system relies on the ecosystem of the MS “hotmail” environment (these days called to outlook.com but the ecosystems extends to Skydrive and the app store) similarly as iPad’s rely on iTunes. It means you need to have at least one outlook.com email account and in the email client you cannot really remove this account.

App Store
The key benefit (and also limitation) of the Surface RT is that you can only install apps via the app store. This simplifies this process for the non technical people and should assure that apps “just work”. It means that apps have been reviewed by Microsoft and that you can have a bit more trust in this that it won’t abuse your information and that it won’t spread viruses and other malware on your machine. I belief this is a critical concept for a consumer tool.

Email client
This is a simplified email client. It does all the basic tasks and if linked to Exchange can even do scheduling and showing availability of others. You can add multiple email accounts but it has the limitation that it does not support POP and minimally you need to connect to the outlook.com account.
With Windows 8.1 you now also get the new desktop version of MS Outlook.

Calendar 
A simplified email calendar. Does all the basic tasks. The primary limitation for business use is that attachments to a meeting invite cannot be accessed. Minimally you need to link up to the outlook.com account.

People (contacts)
The people tool can link up with Exchange contacts. A modern feature is the integration with Facebook and LinkedIn. Note that this linkage is primarily via the outlook.com contacts.
Problem with the Facebook and Linkedin integration is that the birthdays of all your contacts are copied to your outlook.com birthday calendar. You can turn visibility of this off. However if you also use this calendar on your iPhone, this birthday calendar also needs to be turned off otherwise your will constantly be reminded of those birthdays. Further problem is that my experience is that the iPhone regularly turns the birthday calendar back on.

Skydrive 
Skydrive is the Drop Box equivalent and lets you synchronise and access documents that you have stored in the cloud via multiple devices. This way you have access on your mobile devices to the documents stored on your desktop computer. Skydrive forms part of the Microsoft ecosystem. The initial Windows version for RT did not allow you to synchronise files to be accessible off-line but this has been resolved in the Windows 8.1 version. You can now pick folders in Skydrive that you want to have accessible off-line.
In contrast to the equivalent on the iPad, Skydrive presents itself as an extension to the file system, the same way as it would do on a desktop computer and therefore files can be accessed in the normal way using the MS Office apps.
This feature was a necessity since the Surface does not have the option for a SIM card and direct access via a 3G/4G network. Having documents off-line will allow you to continue to work on them while travelling and not having access to a WIFI network.
Using Skydrive – or any equivalent for that matter - in a corporate environment of course will require some consideration with respect to company policies and it might not be acceptable for all businesses.

MS Office 
The killer application is MS Office. The Surface RT provides this for free but only intended for private use. If you would want to use this for business as well, you would need to check if this is covered by the corporate licenses.
MS Office is provided via the desktop interface. You can link the apps to the tiled menu but you will see that it switches to the desktop interface. To use the tools effectively, you still need to use a mouse.

Desktop 
Windows 8 still provides the desktop, almost as an “app” to switch to. You will find there MS Office and the standard Windows Explorer to access all local files. What you won’t see is a folder for “Program Files”. It is, as if it does not exists.

MS Outlook 
With Windows 8.1, Outlook has been added as a desktop app. This provides you with all the necessary business functionality and gives you an alternative option to the standard email, calendar and people apps provided. You could consider using Outlook for business and the other apps for private use.

OneNote 
I recently found this app as very useful to write notes during meetings. OneNote synchronizes well with Skydrive and if Skydrive and OneNote are available in the standard business environment, the notes will be immediately available there.
OneNote comes in a desktop version and an app version. The latter has an improved interface for touch and is great to be used in meetings or while on the road.

Lync 
A MS Lync app is available but I haven’t had the opportunity to work with it. Lync would be great option to attend and drive remote meetings when not at your desk (I would expect Lync in that case to be available via the desktop.) When driving a meeting via voice conferencing only, it is difficult to keep everyone on the same page of a PowerPoint presentation. Presenting on the screen of the attendees via Lync, will keep everyone on the same page. For the rest Lync would be a great tool to use.

Skype 
Skype is the other communications tool available on the tablet and this one works fine. It gives a bigger picture than on the iPhone.

Citrix 
A Citrix client is available and this can be used to transform the tablet into a desktop. With the USB slot in the device an external keyboard can be connected. A mouse can be connected via Bluetooth and there is the option to connect the device to a large monitor. This way I have been able to work a whole day using the tablet as a desktop when visiting another office. I found the performance was not always optimal but it is unclear what the cause of that was. At time I also found that I clicked on a folder and the system translated that to a double click. Another issues is that when you put the device to sleep it loses its connection but has problems to recover from that. There is no easy way to kill the session and start again.

SharePoint 
Some third party SharePoint apps are available however I found that when connecting to the corporate WIFI, due to the availability of IE on the device, you can directly access SharePoint after authenticating yourself. This gives me, when in the office during meetings, access to almost all my documents.

Multiple accounts 
The ability to create multiple accounts allows you to shield the corporate use from the private use. This is even more specifically valuable because many iPads used for corporate purposes are also used by kids at home. A new account with outlook.com however is required and I think that would mean that if you want to install apps, you need to pay again. I haven’t really looked too much into that, since we also have an iPad.

Hardware 
The device itself is very practical. The Touch or Type Cover keyboards provide protection for the screen and can easily be attached and removed. The Type Cover keyboard is definitely preferred and the weight increase is minimal. I found the Wedge mouse that can be connected via Bluetooth very useful which leaves the USB connection free for other purposes such as a large keyboard in case you want to transform it to a desktop computer. The HDMI connector allows you to connect a large screen or a TV. You can easily connect to the device to a TV to use the device to stream a full HD movie.

Battery life 
With limited use the battery will last up to 2 days. The difference with an iPad is that it continues to run when on standby/sleep and will continue to perform certain tasks.

Multi tasking
IOS is not multi tasking while Windows 8 is. It means that you can switch between apps - while one is downloading data, you can use the other.

Intuitive interface 
The interface has been criticized in the press, though my experience shows that it just as simple as IOS. Actually in my opinion a few items are significant improvements such as switching between running apps. Windows 8 allows swiping from the right, while IOS forces you to use the home button to be pressed twice and then select the other app.

Apps 
Microsoft has been criticized for the limited apps in the store. However most important productivity tools and apps such as Kindle etc. are available. The only concern that I have are specialized business apps. For example a little while I rolled out a Board Portal where Board members would be able to review board papers. These types of apps can be important and if these are not available, it can be a deal breaker. Often they will have a general Windows application which would mean that the Surface Pro would be the alternative.

Games 
Solitaire is available.

Self Support 
The tablet can do more than the iPad which means that people who are so called non-technical might struggle at times.
The benefit of the RT version is that people can only install standard apps from the store and it means they can’t really mess too much up.

Network integration 
The new Windows 8.1 for RT seems to provide the ability to connect to the workplace. This requires more than just a personal evaluation and requires network setup and trials. VPN is given as an option.
For home use you can connect to a home group.

Performance/responsiveness 
As being a complete new product, the performance out of the box of the Surface RT was originally acceptable but could have been better. I feel that Windows 8.1 has improved this.


Monday, April 22, 2013

The computer industry that never should have existed

PC’s sales are declining. And I think that is a good thing. PC’s are multi-purpose computing machines that run an OS. We never wanted a PC in the first place. In order to operate the machine you need quite a bit of knowledge. The success of the tablets and primarily thanks to the iPhone and iPad is that we have now operating systems that you don’t need to deal with. You basically only see a bunch if icons. What you do work with is apps and the installation of apps is dead simple. And that is what we want.

A little while ago, I asked myself whether Microsoft would get it right with Windows 8 and I think they are on the right track. The Surface with Windows 8 RT has received quite some criticism and yes, Microsoft still has some way to go, but in essence Windows RT it is getting close to the IOS concept. The benefit of Windows RT is that it has a file system and that it runs Office. For me that is the killer app to transform a tablet from a consumption device into a production device. The disadvantage is that it still Windows and at times you do notice it. But a bigger issue is for me is that Skydrive is not sync-ing files locally and the limited number of apps in the app store. Though for most apps that I would use, there is also be a web substitute. Hopefully Apple will continue to innovate since Microsoft and the rest do need to be shown the way.

Most people, both at home and at work, don’t need a PC. They don’t need to work with an OS but just need to work with apps. Businesses are continuing to make their apps web based. Local computing capacity is only required when you can’t connect to the network. That is still in quite some business and personal areas an issue (and hence my complaint about Skydrive). But with the continuing growth of network capabilities and wireless access points, this will change.

So we move away from PC’s. No more continuously buying new storage capacity. No more buying new PC’s because your PC has become slow just because Microsoft had to apply patches to fix security holes. And much less viruses. Viruses thrive in multi-purpose computing environments. Who wanted a PC anyway? How much time have we wasted upgrading our systems, reinstalling software on our computer and fiddling around with the registry?

Though there will always be a PC market for IT professionals, hobbyists and special purposes, we finally start using dedicated tools that have has primary function the interaction with the environment while data and advanced computing is provided by the cloud, hidden behind easy to use interfaces.


The cloud will give us apps. The cloud will give us content. The cloud will store and backup our data. The cloud allows us to socialise with others. The cloud will allow us to edit our photos and process our videos. The cloud will give us a report of the kilometres we ran during our morning run and the amount of calories we have burnt.

But how will we manage all this? If you buy a video camera from Canon, the camera will probably allow you to upload your video wirelessly to their cloud service where you can edit it and publish clips on YouTube and Facebook. And your Nikkon photo camera allows you to the same on the Nikkon cloud. But do we want all our data be spread across all those different cloud services? No, you probably want it all in one place.

So that is where the big battle will has started. The fight by the big corporations for your life. Yes, you will put everything that there is to know about you in their hands, behind a single password that will be easy to guess. Google and Microsoft have good cards in their hands. Microsoft with Office 365 and Skydrive. Google started already a long time ago, though a lot of people like me don’t like to learn new tools. So I might gravitate towards a Microsoft choice just to stay with Word and Excel. Maybe Apple will be able to change its iTunes/iCloud service into a central hub to manage your content but at the moment it is a rather different concept (though Apple already has a large membership/fan base and they already know how to manage storage).

Just as Nicholas Carr said that “IT does not matter”, I say that the device does not matter and that the OS does not matter. And in many cases even the app does not matter anymore. It is the service that is provided that matters.

For a big part, it does not matter to me if I would browse the web or read my email via an Android, iPad or Surface tablet. They all do the same. The brand of the device is irrelevant to me. I can click on an icon to open the email client. The app does not matter to me that much either, as long as it gets my contacts from the cloud. I read my email from an iPad, an iPhone, a Surface tablet, a Windows 7 PC or via a web browser. I don’t care too much about a browser anymore either. I will just use the one that is available on the device. If the website does not render properly, I just go somewhere else. I have seen a variety of Facebook and Twitter apps and they all seem to do roughly the same. So I don’t care about the app but about the use of Facebook as a service.

Though PC’s will disappear, we will get in return an abundance of devices. All connected to the Internet: The Internet of Things. Devices that just work with an intuitive interface and for which you don’t need to read a thick manual.

With all its limitations, the Surface RT is a complete replacement for a desktop PC. I can’t install all software that I have on a desktop PC, but once I can do my video and photo editing via the cloud (I probably already can, I just haven’t bothered to look into it) it can do the lot: browser, email, Word, Excel, file system with cloud service, watching movies, Skype and a variety of other apps including Citrix Receiver. And thanks to the USB port that allows me to connect a large keyboard, it functions as a full replacement of my thin client at work.

The disadvantage of having everything in the cloud is that we will need more bandwidth and storage. We will shoot more videos and photos than ever and this all needs to be stored in the cloud. And we will distribute and share this with others which will result and a multitude of copies. Before the cloud has found real smart ways to avoid duplication of the same thing, we will create a lot of electronic waste. We are going to watch TV on our own time. So no more broadcasting. The same bits need to be streamed to your TV just a few seconds later than to my TV. But I see some smart technologies are already being worked on to reduce the total overhead for both storage and data streaming.

The advantage of all this is that we are becoming much more productive and entertainment will change from fiddling around with computers to consuming (and creating) content.




In the business environment the story won't be much different and we're well on our way. We're tracking goods, machines tell us when they need maintenance, we integrate our systems with suppliers and customers, we put our IT infrastructure in the cloud - either private or public - and apps are becoming web-based and where possible we'll buy them in the cloud. We'll have some exceptions here and there, but no matter where we go, we can do all our work at any location.

Anyhow, the PC industry is diminishing and from my perspective, it should never have been this huge in the first place. But I have this funny feeling about the cloud. I might buy a NAS device after all ...














Monday, April 1, 2013

Scorpius - A practical approach to small scale information system development





I finally took the effort to publish the design methodology I created a long time ago on the web. Most of this has been superseded by Requirements Analysis techniques and UML but still it contains valuable concepts and ideas.

Antares ceased to exist and the document is not published anymore, I thought it good to have it at hand online so I can use it to discuss concepts with colleagues.



Sunday, March 24, 2013

Managers, meetings and their available time


I see often that managers spend a significant time in meetings and hardly have any time to respond to questions or have time for a discussion. Their calendar is full and they have to decline many meeting invites. In many cases I fully understand it considering the work that comes to them and having seen their calendar. But still I think there is something not right. The problem is that others don’t get answers to their questions, decisions are delayed and there is much stagnation within activities. Some managers hardly ever see their team members outside formal meetings.

I belief that as a manager you should have sufficient time to float around your team and freely mingle with your stakeholders outside formalised meetings. So why is there this over-allocation of managers (in meetings)? There could be many reasons. However I belief that there are ways to reduce this.

If you have constantly back to back meetings, you should ask yourself how this is possible. Could you delegate some of these to your team members and would they have the authority to make the decisions? Has the organisation embarked on too many initiatives? Can meetings be shorter and quicker? I won’t go into how to run meetings because that is a subject by itself and I think already much is said about that.

But there must be options to respond to questions and assure you can communicate your decisions to your team members and stakeholders timely.
I once worked with a CIO who, being a busy man, consistently would answer at least the next day any questions you had sent by email. He was an early riser and used his morning time to respond to all his email. Very effective. As a project sponsor, he organised also the steering committee meetings meaning that they would always be held regularly and project progress was assured. Most project sponsors would leave it to the project manager to organise the steering committee. This means that then project manager will need to struggle to find the time in the full agenda of the sponsor with the constant risk that they would be delayed or cancelled.

I also always respond to emails and questions immediately unless I purposely delay it to obtain more information. The issue is that if A asks B who asks C and each person takes 5 days to respond, the whole process is delayed by 10 days. If each person responds within a day, there is only 2 days delay. Delay simply costs money and specifically if A or B are whole teams who also need to produce something following the answer, you can easily see the impact.

Responding immediately will introduce a temporary feeling of being rushed. But these are short bursts. If you wait, you will have a larger backlog while in the mean time you have the constant stress of all this work piling up. Once you then start working on the responses, you might not be able to complete it all. This will further increase stress and rushed feelings. The risk is then that people will make decisions on their own with the risk that work has to be redone.

Much time of managers is spent on fighting fire. This can be reduced by implementing best practices. Once you have improved your processes and practices, I have found that a team can rather well run on its own. As a manager you have done a great job if you can go away for a while and this does not cause any issues. Just like a parent who raises a child, your objective is to make your team stand on its own. Don't make your team depend on you. Effectively it will reduce the number of questions being asked to you, it makes it easier to delegate and it will increase the time you have available to work with your team. This is what I found out by experience.

So if you are an early riser and your calendar is booked out because your are involved in a change program to implement best practices, I predict in any (near) future you will have more time available.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

How much user documentation do we need?

Today I was asked by a colleague to explain how to book a meeting room in Outlook. I was a bit surprised with the question but was able to help. It is one of those computer tasks you tend to expect that people would know this.

It reminded me of a case long ago where one of my team members said we needed to train users on the defect tracking tool Adminitrack that we used. My response was that it would not be necessary since the tool is so simple that if they wouldn't be able to figure it out themselves, they wouldn't be suitable for testing the much more complex business system that was to be tested.

It makes you wonder again how much user documentation is required.

When running a project for a new system, the user community might feel uncertain and demand comprehensive user manuals to be written even though you know that they will hardly be used.

If you buy a piece of technology these days, how big is the manual they ship with it?

We bought the other day a new mobile phone for my daughter and I instructed her to read the user guide. She looked at me as if I asked her the strangest thing. The guide was smaller than the phone and was no bigger than a few pages. She was finished quickly and would continue to rely on dad if she wouldn't know something.

But that is the way it goes. I do the same. First ask somebody nearby and only the look for written assistance in second instance.

So we should keep documentation concise, provided that we build our technology to be intuitive and in alignment with the processes and tasks at hand. Train the users and let them rely on asking the more experienced ones first. Also provide assistance through the IT super users, relation managers or whatever name you have for them. This way you grow a knowledge ecosystem that is much more effective and efficient than the large and expensive volumes of documentation.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The eco-coach - what sport can learn from business management



Business management theories often use knowledge and experiences from sports. I have always enjoyed these parallels (see also http://www.bouman.net/2010/06/what-we-can-learn-from-football.html). But now I see that sport also has started to use theories and knowledge from business management. 

Photo by Dick Aalders
I had the privilege to experience briefly Tjalling van den Berg life in action with young football players. Tjalling contributed as coach and educator of coaches to the success of the Dutch gymnast Epke Zonderland. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jm_mQXr6JL0) Epke won a gold medal at the 2012 Olympic Games. I was impressed with what Tjalling did, though as an observer he came across rather funny strange man. Don’t know if the players saw it that way.

Tjalling wrote with Ruben Bakema a book called “Coachen” in which they present the concept of “eco-coaching” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zHgVeH2YRD0 ) in which they see the coach to take a more holistic approach to coaching. Not only focus on the technical aspect but place the sportsperson, his personality and his development in the centre. In addition to look at yourself as a coach how you can develop yourself. And they recommend to work with the environment of the sportsperson including family and new technologies. To be an innovator.

The book has three parts. The first part revolves around finding yourself as coach and finding the right talent to coach. The second part revolves around binding with the sportsperson and building team. The third part is about scoring, to achieve results in a sustainable way and to motivate the sportsperson.

Particularly in the first two parts we recognise elements such as characteristics of a good coach (not much different of those of a good manager), the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), communication sciences and ego-state from Transaction Analysis of Eric Berne. The book goes quickly and briefly through a wide variety of theories. In the third part contains more specific sports theories.

Us Abe
The book goes quickly and briefly through a wide variety of theories and is full of on-liners and that is done on purpose so concepts can easily be remembered.

For example “The eco-coach does not let you train harder, but differently, together, smarter and sustainable”.

This reminds me of a project manager who challenged me to work smarter instead of harder when I said that the time to deliver something was insufficient.

Some other one-liners are:

Even when all coaches agree, it does not mean they are right.
What he is trying to say that it is very important to listen to the sportsperson (there is also a section on listening and trying not to talk; http://www.bouman.net/2011/06/are-you-in-it-for-ride.html). In business this not much different and you need to listen to your employees since they often know how to come to a successful outcome.

To be successful over a longer period of time, performance is more important than winning.
We too often aim at short term success which will negatively impact the long term success.  I find this too often the risk with politicians. If they are elected as minister, this is for a short period and in that short period they need to score. That does not always lead to the best decisions.

Without change no innovation and without innovation no progress.
Another angle to this, is not to try to be a strategic partner of the business if the business is not ready for it yet. See Lou Ehrlich in my blog post  http://www.bouman.net/2011/02/it-does-not-always-need-to-be-partner.html

Perform first before you start innovating.
We read so much about CIO’s and the IT department that need to drive business improvement. However in so many cases, the internal processes are rather immature. First provide a good optimal service and control what you have before you want to change the business. I don’t say here that you should avoid initiatives that improve the business but more on where you focus on.
Another angle would be to say that before you automate something, you need to have mastered the manual process. I ran in the past in many occasions where we were asked for some smart IT solution. It turned out that the business did not understand actually what was required because they were not able to perform the task via manual processes.

Just as my comments, the one-liners do not always apply. They are guides that help in certain circumstances.