I’ve played the drums since a teenager. It was a saviour for me and opened my mind to so many great aspects of creativity, collaboration and people passion. I still play today as part of my overall physical and mental health routine. Nothing quite like making a noise and holding a beat to a sweat!
I stumbled across this article and read it with great enthusiasm as you’d imagine.
It got me thinking about how I have used my experiences in drumming, patterns, structures and creativity to overcome challenges personally and professionally. How I go about organising competing tasks or managing tight deadlines. A solid backbeat and ability to recall structures and patterns managing the interruptions and distraction of obstacles, but always back to the beat.
I love the challenge of making things better for all. Sometimes competing and conflicting but that is what makes life interesting at the best and worst of times. It can be a scary place but exhilarating. Like an intricate beat with a dynamic drum fill at the apex of the song with a complex arrangement, and getting the pace and timing just right feels so rewarding. Reading the article enlighten me to this.
Now the devil is the detail – tackle that full on and get organised – get intimate knowledge of it – as that is where we find clarity and the pace of the beat. Drumming and my passion for precision, to hear something in different ways and work the pattern (beat) differently but with an interesting rhythm has always been where I push myself.
Unbeknown to me I have been applying my drummers perspective to so many challenges in my business career without understanding why I take the approach I do. Keep an open mind, study the detail, find the beat, play the song, not the drums.
Where do you draw your skills to fight the devil that is the detail? What other aspects of your life has subconsciously crept into your professional habits?
Having a portfolio career and an amassed array of skills, experiences through a range of roles and industries, sitting on both sides of the desk and working with people of all ranges of power and persuasion can make for a challenge to laser focus on any particular item that promotes a value or resonates with a particular job description.
It is said that variety is the spice of life. I constantly see, in today’s world of disruptive commerce, shouts for innovative and dynamic entrepreneurial people. Employers are demanding the candidate to exhibit endless flexibility, continuous learning spirit, leadership (which comes from a variety of real-world experiences) and passion above and beyond the ends of the universe. Job posts full of adventurous “go-get-em” and WOW description asking for an all-rounder with specific specialisations!
Now its great to fire up candidates imagination, and entice them to want to rise to the challenge and make a difference. We all aspire to contribute and show value. Organisations want to attract the best candidates and have the best talent available to them. That is utterly right and worth the pursuit of lengthy and diligent recruitment.
However, too often in the background is an automated candidate vetting process. This word search and pattern match process leads to exclusion of the very characteristics and experiences the candidate has, and so often desired by the hiring organisation. Adding value to the role and organisation.
Maybe AI and Machine Learning will overcome this challenge with improved fine-tuning and deeper profiling. Just maybe the robots will be able to see through the pile of noise and applications to the very gem an employer requires.
The online world offers so many data points with a clear connection to leverage the intelligent mass evaluation through automation of applications and fit for the role profiles. The danger is it will miss the person behind the logic and the personality that strikes at the very heart of what can make a company great; it’s people, not its robots.
I feel challenged by the conundrum. Putting myself in a box and meeting word pattern criteria to express who I am and what I can add. I struggle with this, as my core principle and journey through life has never been one of a closed mind or single threaded passion but an excitement to learning through new experience, the challenge of the unknown and the thrill of it all. The robots guard the gates to constructive and engaged exploration I fear.
How disciplined should one be in updating their CV and professional profiles? When promoted or role change within their existing organisation? But how often do you really need to? What is the catalyst for this? Clearly the opportunity to seek new employment, or change of role within your current organisation. Now how do you relate your content to the robots?
I took time out to read the recommendations I have gratefully received on Linkedin (me on Linkedin). I wouldn’t say I have a vast number of them (17) but tracking the period of time from the first to the latest gave me food for thought as to “what is it that I’m really good at, but don’t recognise?”, “what is the consistent comment that resonates across these?” and “how do I feel this has changed over time?”
Your skills should change and be influenced by new experiences; good, bad and ugly. But always to the benefit of your growth and learning. The relevance of any comments or observations overtime may appear to become less relevant as a consequence. They all show the journey from what you used to do, to what you can do, and now what you want to do.
What’s more, would the Robots be able to interpret these in context? And does a leopard change its spots or is it that the spots just get bigger?
Clearly, I had a good run through 2010/11 and when I think about what was occurring in my professional life at the time and the market it was driven by the need to reinvent my proposition and value to find a new role to challenge me. Digging deeper into the content of the recommendations and out of the 600 words used the top 10 words were:
With that in mind, the following is the most used (para) phrases concerning activity (not a recommendation): time and on budget and attention to detail.
So how would you use this to align your CV to what you are successfully capable of achieving as value and assuredness for your next employer? Would the robots then box you into? Computer Says No! When you really are looking to reach upward to the next level of your career.
I used http://www.writewords.org.uk/word_count.asp to analyse the text in my recommendation and manipulated these as lists in Excel to contextualise them for this exercise. The full distribution of useful words is depicted below.
Was this a useful exercise? I found it helped confirm what I know I am good at. It gave me food for thought as to what I possibly really want to do, but isn’t being recognised! And also suggested that it is too easy to fall into the trap of the easy option when really to feel alive you want more.
I sincerely thank all my colleagues (past and present), business associates and acquaintances that provided a recommendation.
I’d be interested to hear how this Linkedin Recommendation Analysis process worked out for you. And to all those seeking new employment, good luck in your endeavours.
We all strive to do the very best we can to develop deep capability in our chosen professions. We also sometimes have to dig deep to keep the motivation and belief that our contribution is valued and our legacy provides long term sustainable contribution to our chosen discipline.
We are also told to tell stories as part of any engagement; selling, describing, explaining . . . .. consulting!
I recently had the good fortune to work with someone who in spite of his age and in spite of circumstance (business model) still shows real joy and fun in what he does. He was able to deliver wisdom, advice and stories of sheer joy of his work and accomplishments.
A confession. I was so chuffed to be asked to do this and “we” had absolutely no rehearsal prior and never played together. It was the first time I used that kit in about 5 years! But it was music to my ears.
Listen to him tell stories. Song starts about 5.50 in. Enjoy my walk on the wild side!
But what did this teach me? A team of professionals (in this instance semi-pro in my case) that all understood the part they played in the execution; their role, their responsibility, their contribution and collaboration and support all danced (played) to the same tune and pulled off an immediate and fun accomplishment. At no point did any of us doubt that the other wouldn’t do their job, deliver their part to time and beat and be there for the other.
Why isn’t work more like this more of the time? Why is it that we develop skills that are then compromised by “process” or “policies” or worse – politics and power play! Turning out a horrible tune!
If you don’t know who Herbie Flowers is check out this link http://www.herbieflowers.com/ and just think of Lou Reed Walk on the Wild Side and David Bowie Space Oddity, to name a few . . .
Herbie’s stories made me reflect on how I view my career. My contribution, my legacy and what it is that keeps me motivated irrespective of the challenges and demands that our modern work cadence places upon us. Is it creating beautiful music or wonderful stories!
So I hope you enjoy this and many thanks to Nik for providing me the opportunity to listen, learn and revisit my drumming skills for such an iconic and wonderful piece of music under the instruction of a one of the world’s greatest bass player ever. Thanks Herbie.
I have been busy exploring the varied and wonderful world of legacy solutions and modernisation compatibility. My role has been listening, understanding and exploring business critical requirements and looking for solutions and scope from which to devise a way forward for transformation and improved efficient business practices. All at a cost! Are you willing to pay? Can you afford not to? Do you actual know what you want, what you need?
Now I really feel for the teams who after years of blood, sweat and tears and loyalty to an organisation have had to come to terms with seeing their “labour of love” criticised, or analysed as to what the future shouldn’t be like. I hear statements like “we want to simplify”, “this is far too complex and can’t adapt”, “we over engineered this” . . . .
Having to make business wheels turn under business as usual pressures, the constant demand of changes and having to lovingly safeguarded doing business using is a champions job and no small feat! However too often I am seeing this endeavour become a thankless task when modernisation comes into play. I’ve been here!
We should thank these teams for the hours of devotion as it is their past innovation, solution engineering and practices that has helped a whole software consulting industry learn what, why and the many “how” that helped develop new solutions, technologies and paradigms (Cloud/SaaS).
Decisions are made for the circumstance of the day. Solutions built to support the needs of that era weren’t meant to last a life time and be infinitely flexible and accommodating. At some point they will just not be able to cut the mustard any more. They will be no longer fit for purpose. The world matched on . . .
Business moves on, commerce and industry devise new needs and opportunities, models and processes develop, opportunities demand new support models, and yet sometime the infrastructure that is built to support the legacy business model is forced under pressure to perform above and beyond in the new world model!
I recall in another life where the development of the solution had to address the most bizarre requirements at the edge of every possible combination of circumstance and possibilities. This is often termed “future proofing”. Tell me who has the crystal ball and have really ever seen “that” coming”?
This leads to the classic costly over engineering and the long haul cost of ownership and maintenance change, fix and repair cycles, let alone integration, scaling and portability challenges.
I came across this coffee machine at a wonderful facilities provided by a very well established consultancy. It caught my attention in relation to this topic over engineering, bells and whistle and then the cost of ownership and maintenances. It got me thinking while waiting for my coffee. Will it ever be able to make a good cup of tea? Was it ever meant to?
Too many moving part, accommodating people interaction experience verse their responsibility to (place the cup under the tap head), compensating for people effort and generally build complexity for more vulnerability and cost of ownership. How many times have you designed a solution around people capability over what would work simplest?
Easier said than done when there is more than one engineer having fun!
The thing is everyone in the room is a solutions architect. But not one a pop star! There’s tension and their pain and emotional investment of a life time career is exposed and raw. There is great endeavours and knowledge experts that would score highly in Master Mind for their chosen subject, and a fascinating array of professional office politicking. But not one harmonious tune.
My role gives me great insight into many situations, sectors and cultures where change and design clash constantly and where ownership and authority dance to the tune of a different song to that which they think is playing. They need to change tune but more on that later.
I see this clash more and more as enterprises make that move from old platform to Cloud and the realisation that standardisation demands a new song that only a shared platform can sing.
In the room they are all looking for a solution; they are all trapped in a decision of the past and now embroiled in the challenge of change. What often astounds me are the players in the room, the leadership of risk taking and the real issue; “our business model is no longer fit for purpose and our operating practice broken!”
Large amounts of operational expense are maintained in maintaining the modus operandi. Large capital expense is questioned and fought for to establish “betterment” against the backdrop of legacy. This is modern enterprise business in a world of unpredictable change and overpowering competition of new business models of “subscription”.
The intent of all in the room is to do the right thing. The opinion of what is “right” is the challenge of culture, belief, experience and legacy at odds with each other.
When I am sitting in the room and layer after layer of conversation, deviation and ultimate indecision fills the air with noise and awkward body language, indifference, and/or dogma I can’t help having the tune “Complicated” pop into my head. You’re singing the chorus now aren’t you?
Chill out, what you yellin’ for?, Lay back, it’s all been done before , And if you could only let it be, You will see . . . .
I want these companies to go back to the beginning and try to find the true reason why the company and its product became. What drove it to success? Where is the value? What is the differentiator? Cling on to these and then ask:
Why do you have to go and make things so complicated?
I see the way you’re acting like you’re somebody else
Gets me frustrated
You fall and you crawl and you break
And you take what you get and you turn it into honesty
You promised me I’m never gonna find you fake it
No no no
If you fancy a sing alone try this!
Must thank Avril Lavigne fo adding to my corporate change wisdom and therophy.
It was always going to be a challenging project. The end users had the attention span of a gnat. The delivery was to change their way of working significantly. We knew we were looking at an uphill battle of acceptance, agreement and adoption. But it was a transformational project and had benefits beyond the front line use (CRM).
My key sponsor knew how to play this landscape and knew how to navigate the culture and habitat of the business. As such he drove an extremely hard line on the project team and maintained a level of focus and engagement that ensured that we did the “right things”, not always “did things right”.
As the project manager this approach often conflicted with the fundamental way minds work in an engineering project discipline. It clearly did not sit well with the project team. “Where is the best practice?” rang in each team meeting, “this doesn’t work with the deliver dependencies in the plan!” Somehow we needed to find common ground and understanding with the business and agreed demarcation of decision making and domain respect.
I was accountable for the delivery of the solution. It had to meet the business needs but also needed to be sustainable and workable across the wider solutions and process platforms. It also must protect the long term ROI by the manner in which we engineered the solutions for several international areas of the business.
Some environments can tolerated the “do the right thing” v’s “doing things right” approach and other will push back. The birth of Agile PM as an example has been bastardised from it pure efficiency gains into a delivery expectation paradigm which is wrong, wrong, wrong. It places business, projects and outcomes at risk by setting expectation that do not align to a design and puts avoidable pressure on all sides of the project. Some things we build need foundations; it isn’t just painting and decorating!
However, in this instance my sponsor had the positioning bang on and influenced the way I priorities and multitasked the project into what would “curry” favour with key stakeholders, answers their concerns and keep the project from by flushed down the loo! The key was to make an early deliverable to the end user communities and make an immediate and important win whilst building solid reputation and greater tolerance of the project for doing thing right going forward.
I must confess, at the beginning of this journey this approach created some degree of challenge for me and great anxiety for the team. It went against all my experience and best practice as a PM. I was tasked with managing a delivery whilst my sponsor was tasked with delivering an outcome. I have since come to realise that these in essence are one and the same.
So over too many drinks one night this miss-alignment resulted in a heated debate (constructive and open) between us. My sponsor resolved it by setting me a test. This proved his point and influenced how I would assess delivery forevermore.
“You have been out all night drinking copious amounts of beer. You’re hungry and in desperate need of a toilet. You grab a microwave curry on the way back to your flat. Keys in the door into the hallway and you see that you have some messages on your answerphone (those were the days). So you’re hungry, desperate for the toilet and there are messages waiting for you. What do you do first?”
I’ll leave you to work out what is the correct answer and please let me know by leaving your comment below,
Suffice to say this approach has continued to influence my thoughts and approach in engagements and project management. Where there is a clear need for “quick wins” that conflicts with “best practice” it is important to find a way forward that allows leveraging greater stakeholder tolerance of the wider delivery and a more pragmatic direct focus on doing the “right things” by the team in order to do things right.
As a leader of the project team my task is to gain buy-in from all parties to identifying why a “doing the right thing” by your business stakeholders is the first deliver that any project needs to make.
The order of the day was a complex in an international institutionalised practice desperate to move into “best practice” methods of doing business. Now surely “best practice” can only be defined in context of the performance of the individual organisation. You’re only as good as your last . . . . .
They had worked hard, tirelessly to assimilate all the requirements and categories them, align them, group them and dissect them. Good job clearly a momentous effort.
The list was extensive, each statement hanging in the breeze like leafs on a branch, connected and bound by their precarious stems waiting to detach at any moment under the stress of the changing breeze of business. They twist and turn on the branch, and not easily translate to the canvas of colour and texture that defines . . . . . . .
It was going to take a big effort from the team to pull this into shape. The countless workshops and PowerPoints, papers and examples given, received, digested, regurgitated and pondered only added to the strength of the breeze blowing the leafs and stressing the branches. The task stared us in the face, the cutting wind of Requirements Definitions. Were we able to see the wood for the trees?
But what is a statement of requirements as the first stage of a project life cycle? If we stopped to ask what is it we are trying to achieve and what part of a process we looking to complete or why do we need to do this, we may rethink an approach and weighting of this stage. For sure the business will change during the life time of the project and therefore our requirements may become irrelevant or just plain different.
We want to ensure that sufficient understanding of the domain space has been transferred into a project artefact and that the project is able to articulate what the project must deliver and for what outcome or benefit; “The solution should allow . . . . to do this to achieve the following outcome.“
There are several tools to help describe definition such as flow charts, Unified Modelling Language (UML) Use Case, Swim Lanes, User Story, State Transition Diagram etc . . . . However, we want to be able to communicate to a non-technical, non-engineering audience, typically business Subject Mater Experts (SME) and key stakeholders. These participants often work from the repetitive, process driven lens or day-to-day operation. Not the engineering lens looking to dissect and rebuild. Making conceptual requirements difficult to relate to the now of the everyday operation.
Assume in existence is a strategy statement, a vision, a mission statement and all that good stuff, something to hang your hat and scarf on in the stiff breeze of requirements gathering. Assume there is visibility of a value proposition and quantifiable KPIs. I guess if you cannot substantiate these assumptions you should STOP now.
The project is being set up for failure without clarity on this. Speaking to my previous blog (SoO) these should be listed and counter signed as part of the outcome partnering proposition between organisations.
For the purpose of this blog post let’s assume all that good stuff is in place. Otherwise I should stop writing now.
A requirements definition could then reflect the following:
- A reference number – Always useful and unique
- A short title – Representing the gist of the need
- A fuller description – Of the “What” – not how and should be singular in nature, one statement for one need
- Business Alignment – The “Why” this is needed and how it fits into the business operation and/or practice
- Strategy Alignment – A short statement on how this support the business strategy
- KPI – How the requirements will be quantifiably measured against the business outcome as business value (take it that Strategy Alignment could be qualitative measure)
- Audit/Knowledge Custodians – Who, when, SME, version, date etc
Yes there is a ton of other stuff but let’s not boil the ocean here. It should not include design and implementation matter or commitment to user experience and/or solution design. We are after all trying to relate business needs to a set of deliverable to form the exercise of design, not design as a seed to requirements. Reminds me of the saying “a good invention waiting for a purpose.”
Language, texture and tone. We need acceptance, buy-in and most importantly agreement and alignment to take these to a formal approval sign off. So this document has to be non-technical and speak a business language and not an implementation and/or technical one. It must bind leafs blowing in the wind into a coherent sway of changing winds.
As such it must be a collaborative effort and individuals on both sides of the table must approach this with a view of making this work. It must speak a common language and it must engage and satisfy many masters.
A by product: This exercise is a great asset to any organisation as a by-product often establishes the missing corporate procedure manual that can go a long way in managing the overall alignment and effectiveness of the enterprise.
So the next time a requirements gathering phase is initiated it may be worth looking at your template, tool kit and definition of this task and asking: “What is it that we are trying to achieve through this effort?”
But how does that translate into a company culture? And how does that get realised in the execution of service? And how does that define the customer relationship?
The expansive and exhaustive clauses in the Master Service Agreements (MSA) and Statement of Work (SoW) used to level set engagements have been laboured over, positioned and postulated to the nth degree to protect “all” parties.
The ink is hardly dry when the next signing is due! Change Orders, Change Control and the endless negotiation on definition of accountability the ruin of many a good customer relationship. The cost and effort in tracking scope and reporting effort adds to burning up precious resource, budget and time. Is there an alternative?
Today the SoW and MSA are the established rule. But how does this fit with the social collaborative, agile method that we all profess to embrace in this Cloud/SaaS day and age? Is this the “outcome” based generation of delivery professionals or are we still entrenched in the “push me pull me” relationship of the last century?
Businesses can execute projects on a strategically optimistic level and become painfully compromised by this. Due diligence can cripple innovation. Hope and vision is an important human emotion that provides motivation, focus and leadership. A clear steer is needed in often uncharted waters. The SoW should be the wind in the ships (project) sails but often becomes a storm rather than a guiding wind as knowledge and learning unfolds.
Ask yourself this; “did the last SoW you delivered against really reflect the effort and journey that was originally set out in it?”, “was what was delivered anywhere close to what you discovered you actually needed?”.
Experience has shown that conflict of interests, and at times crises of principle, between the persona of a Partner and the execution of a Supplier can create the worse in customer relationship; waste, inefficiencies, missed opportunities and lost success, all trapped within the framework that is the Time and Materials (T&M) SoW of the last century.
I have experienced both sides of the customer and supplier relationship. I have felt the pains from both. The supplier that wants to act as a partner and finds the SoW culture aligns to acting as a supplier. And as the customer frustrated by the supplier who fails to grasp the bigger picture to step up to acting like a partner.
I am not saying that accountability, definition, financial management, penalty and control should be abandoned. I am saying that what SoW measures in this day and age are probably not fit for purpose and need to look at delivery and reward from a new set of metrics.
When I think back on being on the receiving side (the customer) I recall that success came from suppliers that worked jointly with me to overcome a challenge. This created the support relationship to bring an engagement to a mutually successful position – an outcome and a partnership. In this position at times it was necessary to deliver bad news to stakeholders and align with the supplier. But this was in preservation of the bigger picture. I commend those suppliers who went the extra mile finding the guts to invest in the relationship. You know who you are.
Those suppliers that took up a ridged and tightly formed scope approach chasing the margin suffered a cautious relationship with the stakeholder community. In fact most of the suppliers I worked with who took that approach are not in business today. Whereas most that partnered and invested in joint risk and challenge are.
In a recent Cloud/SaaS engagement it became clear that the needs of the customer could not be met by the existing arrangement and agreement. Both sides had a learning curve of industry and product that was steeper than first thought. Significant business change challenges and clear knowledge gaps existed that exacerbated the situation. Product capability and readiness impacted the shaping of the solution. The Customer’s ability to provide need support and definition lacking. It was clear that the duration between pre-sales, SOW agreement and actual project execution highlighted the rapid change of business in this day and age. Our SoW was out of date before we started the project!
This further encouraged my thinking that the SoW should focus on mutual recognition of risk, creativity of mitigation and contingency of clear measurable business outcomes; reduced cost through efficiencies, increased revenue through business intelligence, reputational outcome through tracking CSAT, retention of staff, retention of customers and business, bigger slice of the pie.
How about a collaborative transparent approach across all players in the project with joint investment/ownership and reward written into an agreed Statement of Outcome (SoO)? We all have some form of performance management scheme in our job roles and are familiar with these so why not make projects based upon the same SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timely) measures. Anything but scope, time and budget. All of which we rarely are really in control of as time elapses, scope changes and budget diminishes and more importantly, Business Changes, before the end is in sight.
So when I find the conversation focuses on a SoW and the tightly bound scope and engagement framework I ask myself “are we looking at the customer as a lifelong engagements?” or do we see them as a “revenue target for a fixed event?”
I argue that in this Cloud/SaaS subscription economy the latter does not hold weight. We need to rethink the terms of the SoW and look to embrace shared outcome for the longevity of a subscription through outcome based engagements (SoO) when it come to the implementing the solution and long term strategic revenue flows in a SaaS model.