Monday, July 25, 2016

Reflections after six months

I have been in my new position for just over six months now, and I love being part of Ramsey County! I am excited to come to work every day! We have made several key changes over the last six months, and we still have a lot of work to do, but we are doing it together. I consider myself fortunate to have a wonderful staff, leadership team, and colleagues at Ramsey County!

At about six months into the new position, now is a good time for reflection. Allow me to share a selection of my responsibilities at Ramsey County:
Direct and manage all aspects of Information Services for Ramsey County. Lead the vision, strategy, and governance for information technology in the County, ensuring alignment with the County's vision, mission, and goals and industry best practices.

Selected Responsibilities

• Through an Information Technology Plan, lead the strategic direction for IT and guide all staff in the achievement of this vision for Ramsey County.

• Create and maintain highly professional, customer-oriented, innovative, and future-focused IT capabilities in the department including operations, enterprise applications, information security, and project management office.

• Ensure the provision of secure and stable IT services in a cost effective manner to support business outcomes through effective risk management strategies.

• Ensure physical and logical security of all County computing assets, including data.

• Direct the development of and promotion of policies and standards covering County-wide IT related functions including procurement, technical infrastructure, information security, records management, and projects.

• Manage the development of IT annual budgets and monitor performance against established budgets and plans; communicate on behalf of IT to state auditors.

• Continuously and proactively seek ways for IT to deliver value to the County, including identification of new sourcing opportunities. Help the County realize new IT enabled business opportunities.

• Direct IT governance for the County. Serve on County-wide committees including the County Manager's Senior Management Team, and chair the County's Technology Governance Committee. Participate in planning and policy making at the executive level.

• Direct and perform special studies for the County to identify areas of potential improvements in IT and across the County's IT delivery structure.

• Maintain liaison with other public and private organizations.
Colleagues from my time at the U of M have asked me "What's it like in government?" I find it is very much the same. We have the same processes, the same structures, the same governance, the same committees, the same org chart … it's just labelled differently!
image: Ramsey County website

Monday, July 18, 2016

I'm thinking about writing an ebook

I am thinking about writing several ebooks. The ebooks will span a range of topics from leadership to usability to open source software. Several will be based on my blogs, others will be contributed chapter compilations in collaboration with different authors.

At the moment, I'm thinking the ebooks will be made available for free, also available on the Amazon Kindle bookstore, and probably Apple iTunes Bookstore and Google Play Bookstore. Distributed under a Creative Commons Attribution license, contributors can submit a previous work or write something new. Authors retain the copyright to what they submit, and can re-use their contribution elsewhere.

These are the ebooks I am considering:

Open Source Usability
Open Source Usability
An ebook about how to examine and improve the usability in free and open source software. While many books exist about usability, none specifically focus on free and open source software. Intended for developers, this ebook will discuss what usability is, different ways to examine usability, how to measure usability, and ways to integrate usability test results back into the development stream to improve the next versions of the software. See my blog: Open Source Software & Usability.
Coaching Buttons
Coaching Buttons
An ebook comprised of about fifteen chapters from my Coaching Buttons blog, about Leadership and Vision in Information Technology. Organized into several themes of leadership, this ebook will be interesting to current and aspiring leaders.
Why FreeDOS
Why FreeDOS
An ebook about the FreeDOS Project, how it got here, and who contributes to it. Comprised of about fifteen contributed chapters, organized chronologically by date of first contribution, this ebook will be interesting to open source developers and others who want to get involved in free and open source software.
Focused Leadership
Focused Leadership
An ebook aimed at emerging and rising technology leaders. About fifteen chapters written by contributors at various levels of leadership, from team leads to CIOs and CEOs, in higher ed, government and industry. Chapters will be organized into three sections with about five chapters each to discuss roles that are primarily Lead, Lead+Manage, and Lead+Do.

I'm not sure what the audience would be for these ebooks. What do you think? Would you read these ebooks? Let me know in the comments, or send me an email.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Career ladders

A few years ago, I served on a committee to identify new career ladders for our IT teams. This work originated with a document I wrote about how to "level set" the compensation and seniority for our operations and infrastructure staff, many of who had joined our team as part of IT consolidations from different parts of the organization. In that document, I set a new career progression, from "junior" to "staff" to "senior" to "team lead," with compensation ranges for each. This document was going to be the basis for a re-organization of my teams.

My director liked the idea of planning for career levels, and we moved the idea forward to our HR department. From that concept, the career ladders committee was formed. The career ladder committee expanded on my original plan, and established a new organizational structure for IT staff, in different categories.

I have since used this career ladder concept as a basis for organizational planning. The document provides a simple overview of technology teams and how job areas are aligned and related. Our work was expansive. We defined eight separate career tracks, with different levels within each:
  1. Development
  2. Database Management
  3. IT Security
  4. Systems Analysis & Administration
  5. Network Analysis & Administration
  6. Business/System Analysis
  7. IT Management
  8. IT Generalist

The picture below represents the organizational structure based on that list. The picture should be read from the bottom up, representing the infrastructure, to systems, to development, to support of the end user. The usefulness of this picture is to ensure that our career ladders do not miss any key areas or functions of IT work, requiring significantly different skill sets, work knowledge, and responsibilities; specifically, a different career path.

Enduser/desktop/helpdesk supportManagement
Code Migration
Change Control
Software Admin
Application Support
Systems DBAApplication DBA
Systems AdminSecurity
NetworkData CenterOperationsAutomation

How do you manage career ladders at your organization? Do your staff know how they can advance? Every organization has "star" performers who excel at what they do, and who want to do more. How do you reward these employees? How does your organization invest in them?

It's often said that the best reward for hard work is more work. And that is true to a point, and gets you pretty far with many people. But you will eventually need to consider career progression for these top performers. How you engage them in their careers goes a long way to retaining your top talent.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Take a vacation

I've previously written about maintaining a work-life balance. I'd like to talk about this again.

Vacations are important. In local government, as in local higher ed, we have a very generous vacation policy, and I encourage everyone to use their vacation wisely. Don't try to "save up" your vacation—use it. After all, studies tell us that taking a vacation can not only improve your mental health, but help you live longer as well.

For example, I'm planning some vacation time for myself: I'm taking the next two weeks as vacation. We'll be hosting a visit from family, then I'm taking some extra time off. There's a work conference at the end of that time, which worked out well.

When on vacation, you should enjoy your vacation. Unplug the electronics. Turn off your mobile phone. Allow yourself to relax and recharge.

While time off is important, coordinating with coworkers is also important. I ask that you plan ahead for your vacation. Discuss your vacation plans in advance with your teammates and your manager, so everyone knows when you will be gone, and for how long. It's very disruptive to everyone if you don't plan ahead, if you suddenly take a day's vacation because you would "lose" vacation time if you didn't.

Take a moment this week to look at your vacation balance, and plan a well-earned break.

Monday, June 27, 2016


One life lesson I carry with me is to reach out and say "Hello" to someone I don't know. That follows from the "Four I's" of building relationships:
  1. Initiate
  2. Inquire
  3. Invest
  4. Inspire

You start a new relationship with Initiate (for example, "Hi there!") and Inquire (such as "My name is —. What's your name?"). Over time, you Invest in the relationship. When you have built up enough currency in your relationship, you can Inspire your new friend to raise the bar or to help you out. This fourth "I" is sometimes called "Influence."

I have made a point of learning how to say "Hello" in different languages. This was a helpful skill when I worked in higher education and regularly met with students, including international students. Outside that setting, I find being able to greet someone in their own language helps to break down barriers, so I can reach out to someone I don't know. Something as simple as "Hello" can create an instant connection.

I can say "Hello" in several languages:
  1. Buenos días ("Good morning") or Hola ("Hello," Spanish)
  2. Bonjour (French)
  3. Ni Hao (Chinese: 你好)
  4. Guten Morgen ("Good morning") or Hallo ("Hello," German)
  5. Aloha (Hawai'ian)
  6. Ya'at'eeh (Navajo)
  7. Buongiorno ("Good morning") or Ciao ("Hello," Italian)
  8. Kon'nichiwa (Japanese: こんにちは)
  9. Yeoboseyo (Korean: 여보세요)
  10. Zdravstvuyte (Russian: Здравствуйте)
  11. Marhabaan ("Hello," Arabic: مرحبا)
  12. As-salaamu 'alaykum (literally "Peace be unto you," Arabic: السلام عليكم‎‎) and the response: Wa'alaykumu s-salaam ("and upon you, Peace")

There is also "nuqneH" (in Klingon) but I don't get many occasions to use that one.

In how many languages can you greet someone? Even if you conduct business in English (BELF, or "Business English as Lingua Franca") you'll find value in saying "Hello" in a different language.
image: Wikimedia: "Hello my name is" sticker

Monday, June 20, 2016

IT organizations must adapt or die

I reviewed an IT status update earlier this week, and it gave me pause. The update mentioned several applications that we are currently replacing or updating. One, I noted, was first implemented in 1998. That's a very long time ago. It's effectively forever in "IT time."

Think about how much things have changed since that application first went live in 1998. Back then, most of us used desktops. Laptops were available, but in the company where I worked, only the CEO and CIO used laptops. They were too expensive for the rest of us. Cell phones were common, but they were big, blocky affairs that only made phone calls.

And of course, we had Windows 98.

Technology is always changing. You don't have to go back very far to see how quickly technology evolves. Ask yourself how things will be different a few years from now.

IT organizations must adapt to constant change, or they will die. Don't be the next CIO who might have brought change. Be the CIO who embraces change.

To be adaptive and responsive, I see three major trends in future IT organizations:

Business partnership is critical
Relationships with the rest of the organization must be intentional and structural. This means processes and roles. IT is the translation point between business needs and technology. CIOs who maintain strong relationships will be able to connect business needs to technology.
Workforce skills must evolve
As technology changes, we need to continually invest in our staff. Shifting from internally-developed and -developed appliations to commodity off-the-shelf systems requires IT to move focus from development to integration. Vendor management must be intentional.
IT must be a leader
The business relies on the CIO to set a direction for technology. Be that leader. IT is uniquely positioned to see across departments and technologies, and can be proactive in recommending solutions and strategies. We may not be able to predict the future of technology, but we can describe the general shape it will take. Provide a roadmap, keep it updated, and tie it to business objectives.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Words to avoid

As part of any manager's role is writing documentation. As a line manager, you might write procedures or standards. As a director you might write directives or vision goals. At the CIO level, I write a lot of executive briefings for other leaders or for our Board.

Over my career, I have learned a few things about effective communication. For example, use active voice. "Passive voice should never be used by you." So I was interested to read "15 words to eliminate from your vocabulary to sound smarter" from Business Insider. As the title implies, these are 15 words to avoid in any communication, written or spoken:

  1. That
  2. Went
  3. Honestly
  4. Absolutely
  5. Very
  6. Really
  7. Amazing
  8. Always
  9. Never
  10. Literally
  11. Just
  12. Maybe
  13. Stuff
  14. Things
  15. Irregardless

Several of these words lessen your credibility. One example is "Honestly." A colleague outside of work uses "Honestly" in his emails. I am sure he means to use it as a kind of "break" in his writing, or perhaps to lend emphasis to his next statement. But I find it often negates what he just said. If you are only now being honest with me, should I ignore what you wrote previously?

Consider what words you use in your communication. A few word replacements can add impact and raise awareness.