Monday, October 28, 2013

My lead-manage-do journey

We only have so much time in a given week. How you divide your time is up to you. But where should you provide focus? Lead, manage, or do? The "lead-manage-do" concept helps us to understand the focus we need to put into our work. To be the most successful, one person really should concentrate on (at most) two of the "legs" of this triangle: "lead-manage", "lead-do", or "manage-do". While it's not impossible to do all three at once, doing so reduces focus in your other areas.

I wrote about this topic in September, asking What's your focus? Think of your available time as a "pie," and how you divide your time as "slices" of the pie. That's your time for the week. You can't make the pie any bigger, unless you want to work through the weekend. How do you spend this available time?

I sometimes like to reflect on my own performance, and today I'd like to share my own "journey" of lead-manage-do throughout various points in my career. This is a good way to demonstrate how focus shifts at different levels in an IT organization. People must divide their time differently, focused into specific areas, depending on what is important for their role in the organization.

Here is my journey:

Systems administrator: geographics company
» After my B.S. degree, I worked for a small geographics company. A lot of our business was printing custom maps for very specific uses; banks might use us to create a visual representation of their lending practices (to demonstrate equal lending) or insurance underwriters would ask us to map out certain insurance risks in a particular areas. I'd interned there the previous summer, writing small programs to audit databases, and they remembered me when I graduated. I managed the thirty-something Unix servers and workstations, and helped support the approximately 100 Windows desktops throughout the company.

We always looked for more efficient ways to do things, and for new business opportunities. I remember taking my first step towards leadership, proposing a vision to our vice president: let's take advantage of this new "World Wide Web" thing, set up a web server where people could type in their address, and we'd give them a simple line-drawing map of their neighborhood, indicating other information we could provide them by calling our sales department. Our vice president rejected the idea, claiming "No one wants free maps on the Internet." (Mapquest started offering "free maps on the Internet" the following year, in 1996.)

After about a year, we had some turnover in our department, including my manager. I shifted into a manager role as Associate Manager of IS. But to be honest, I was still just a systems administrator who also managed a very small team; my focus was the "do" of systems administration.

Working manager: law firm
» Eventually, I left that company and joined a small data management company owned by a law firm. We provided computer-based "production & discovery" for lawyers; during a lawsuit, each side needs to "produce" documents that the other side can comb through and "discover" evidence they might use in their case. Normally, this is very paper intensive, but we streamlined that using technology. I was Manager of IT, responsible for a group of IT staff. But as a working manager (the trend at the time), I still took responsibility for systems administration of our fifteen or so Unix servers. I had to balance "manage" with "do."

But again, I occasionally exercised "leadership" by providing a vision for future options in technology. I once shared an idea with our CIO that we could simplify the management of our desktop computers by leveraging "The Web." I proposed that we could move our email systems to use a "webmail" interface (then a new idea) and several of our backoffice applications to web applications. All we'd need to run on the desktop is Microsoft Office and a few other key applications. But the company didn't have the spare funds to make such a conversion. In 1998, the company shut its doors. I moved on.

Manager: OIT Web Team
» I joined the University of Minnesota, managing the Web production team in the Office of Information Technology. We were the folks who migrated new web applications from "development" to "test" and then to "production." Among other things, my team was involved with one of the first web-based course registration systems at the university.

My focus was manager, but I was still a working manager, although less so than at the law firm. I would lend a hand with managing the Unix systems, assisting my team with the day-to-day systems administration tasks. I divided my time between "manage" and "do," with some "lead," but most of my time was now in management.

Manager: Linux and Unix
» After a few years, I moved to a larger role in OIT, managing all Linux and Unix teams. As you might expect, I gave up more of my "do" tasks. I now had several teams of systems administrators, so I didn't need to assist in the day-to-day. To be fair, I did some "do" tasks; I had a user account on a test system, and I occasionally wrote scripts to analyze system performance or do other simple reporting. But my new focus was "manage" with a decreasing "do" and increasing "lead."

I had a few other positions within OIT after that, growing to manage all of the systems administration teams within the Office of Information Technology.

Senior Manager: Operations and Infrastucture
» In 2006, I became Senior Manager for all OIT Operations and Infrastructure. This included all Unix, Windows, and VMWare systems administration teams, as well as system databases, enterprise storage and backup, production automation, disaster recovery planning, desktop support, and similar areas.

In this role, I provided much more leadership: Tracking trends, anticipating future needs, developing vision and strategies to achieve goals, and engaging others. By this time, I consciously tried to exercise "lead-manage-do," putting my focus on "manage-lead." But sometimes "life" got in the way. For example, during a particularly difficult PeopleSoft upgrade, I was called on to help a "SWAT team" fix an enterprise printing issue (I wrote a simple program that acted as a print filter). So as much as I tried to minimize it, I sometimes performed a few "do" tasks.

Director: Information Technology
» Most recently, in 2010, I joined the University of Minnesota Morris as the Director of Information Technology and CIO. We have a small team, but I interact with every aspect of the campus: students, faculty, and staff. Here, my role truly is "lead-manage," dividing my attention about equally between the two areas. There's only a small portion of "do" in collecting data for a report, providing help of a routine nature, developing basic business processes, dealing with day-to-day email and phone calls.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Top 10 priorities

What are IT's top priorities? What is your campus focusing on? What's important to your students and faculty?

EDUCAUSE Review shared a video this summer about the Top-10 IT Issues. In higher education, technology plays a crucial support role. But technology needs to be like a service; when our customers reach for what they think is a lightswitch, the lights need to come on. We support the campus, so we need to pay careful attention to the campus needs.

Top issues facing higher education CIOs today include reducing costs, demonstrable improvement in student outcomes, strategic advancements in e-learning, and meeting the demands of consumerization. These are reflected in the top 10 overall priorities:

  1. Wireless
  2. Using technology to improve student outcomes
  3. Cloud
  4. Staffing and organizations
  5. Balancing infrastructure, openness, and security
  6. Strategic funding
  7. Online learning
  8. Supporting "bring-your-own-device"
  9. Transforming the business with IT
  10. Applying analytics

Many of these map directly to an earlier prediction of the six trends for 2013: Big data, analyzing course performance for faster feedback, supporting "BYOD," platform independence, mobile apps, and education social media.

What are your top priorities?

Monday, October 21, 2013

On Drucker and innovation

It's hard to go wrong quoting Peter Drucker when discussing innovation. Peter Drucker (1909-2005) was an Austrian-born American management consultant, educator, and author. His books and articles have made a lasting impact on the philosophical and practical foundations of modern businesses. I have several of his books on my shelf, including Innovation and Entrepreneurship. It's a good read, if a little dry, and I recommend every aspiring innovator take time to read it.

While Drucker's work spans many years, from 1939 to 2008 (posthumous), much of Drucker's advice applies well to modern innovation. For example, interpreting your critics' reviews is important to knowledge-based innovations, such as in realizing new ideas in higher education technology. In Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Drucker suggests that there must be "receptivity" to innovations in order for them to be successful:
To be successful, a knowledge-based innovation has to be "ripe"; there has to be receptivity to it. This risk is inherent in knowledge-based innovation and is indeed a function of its unique power. All other innovations exploit a change that has already occurred. They satisfy a need that already exists. But in knowledge-based innovation, the innovation brings about the change. It aims at creating a want. And no one can tell in advance whether the user is going to be receptive, indifferent, or actively resistant. (126-127)
Drucker lists seven sources of innovation opportunity. In supporting our campus, much of our technology innovation derives from the third source: process need.
In innovations that are based on process need, everybody in the organization always knows that the need exists. Yet usually no one does anything about it. However, when the innovation appears, it is immediately accepted as 'obvious' and soon becomes 'standard.' (69)
Drucker suggests four rules for entrepreneurship within a public-service institution (183). The first two rules apply especially to developing new applications within public higher education institutions:
  1. A clear definition of the mission.
  2. A realistic statement of goals.
Drucker's third rule—failure to achieve goals should be viewed that the objective is wrong, or not defined correctly—should guide any innovation throughout its course, as we continually evaluate its success. In developing new services and ideas, if we encounter major obstacles and cannot work towards the goal, that should be an opportunity to step back and consider if the objectives are the right ones. In a public university, technology acts in service to the campus, and we need to ensure technology properly supports our students and faculty.

In any innovation, Drucker suggests three conditions for successful renewal of ideas (138-139):
  1. Innovation is work. It requires knowledge, great ingenuity. Some are more talented innovators that others. Innovators rarely stick to one area. At the end of the day, innovation becomes hard, purposeful work making great demands on diligence, persistence, commitment.
  2. To succeed, innovators must build on their strengths. Innovators look at opportunities over a wide range then ask "which of these fits me?" There must be a temperamental "fit." It must be important to you and make sense to you personally.
  3. Innovation is an effect in economy and society. It's a change in the behavior of customers, of people in general. Or a change in process in how we work. Innovation, therefore, has to be close to the market, focused on the market.
Finally, Drucker encourages a continual process of purposeful innovation, admonishing that "successful entrepreneurs do not wait until 'the Muse kisses them' and gives them a 'bright idea;' they go to work" (34). Embracing the changing technology allows universities to better serve their students and faculty, and by extension, their academic mission.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Build vs. buy: Why Morris chose to build

Earlier this year, I spoke at the UBTech 2014 conference about a new way to share campus event information with students. Our concept of "Tweets from the future" considers student engagement differently that answers the question "It's after dinner, what can I do?"

Many universities have a mobile website that focuses on events. One common reference is the University of Wisconsin’s which advertises arts, athletics, film, music and public lectures. Other institutions (including the University of Minnesota Twin Cities, at have mimicked this mobile site design, presenting calendars of events in "categories," often alongside unrelated links for maps, alumni information, and social networking.

Via this design, students can view upcoming activities by clicking into each category. As they do so, students must build a mental map of which events are happening now, soon to occur, or scheduled in the future—for each category they visit. While breaking up events by topic may make sense for a narrow range of students who only want to see sports events, or only wish to attend art presentations, the Morris students we surveyed found these "categories" too unwieldy to effectively inform them of available upcoming activities. Students did not want to mentally "juggle" the calendar to figure out what was happening around campus; they wanted the calendar to present timely information about things to do.

At Morris, we approached the problem from a new direction. We focused exclusively on current on-campus students, and looked for only the information that would interest them. Instead of separating events into "categories," we utilized a coherent "timeline" view starting now and looking forward into the immediate future. Students visiting the "Morris Mobile Events" webapp effectively see "Tweets from the future" about upcoming events and activities: weather, events, arts, sports, and news.

University Business Magazine was very interested in our mobile events app, and later I spoke with Avi Asher-Shapiro about our solution. In Build vs. buy: Why Morris chose to build, reviews our webapp, including why we chose to build our own system rather than buy something that might already be on the market. We have a small budget at Morris. When we were considering our options, we knew we needed to be very careful about how we spent both our time and money, so we opted to build our own solution.

And it wasn't a very complex task. From the article:
In the end, the university’s existing IT infrastructure made building the app in-house the most efficient option. “We took all these different feeds we’d already designed for campus events, lectures, and programs, and routed them into one place,” explains Hall. He knew he could develop the app without straining his staff. “There wasn’t that much to it,” Hall says. “One developer put together the app and wrote the code working half time in just two weeks.”

Mobile is where our students are at, and I am glad we could bring the Morris Mobile Events web app to them on their tablets and phones. I hope everyone enjoys being able to see what's happening on campus. Over time, we plan to expand "Morris Mobile Events" with new feeds. While today we can only display event data from the campus events calendar and sports calendar, in future we hope to add menus and specials from the Dining Hall or Turtle Mountain Cafe, or movies at the local theater.

Monday, October 14, 2013

A reminder on Relative Importance

There's a classic saying in leadership that "What got you here won't get you there." It's a reminder that you need to refocus your priorities, what's important to your job, as you move up into new responsibilities.

Last year, I shared a survey asking participants to rate the relative importance of four types of job duties: Technical, Strategic, Interpersonal, and Finance. Note that these aren't "skills" per se, but qualities that are important to the work performed within each role.

The tasks that are very "hands-on" by nature, often managing servers or databases, or supporting other systems or desktop environments.
Time spent thinking about the overall IT organization, and how the organization needs to respond to meet new challenges.
Building relationships, the "give and take" of interacting with others.
Factoring in costs, either at the small scale (tools, etc.) or at the larger scales (budgets, etc.)

I sought the help of friends and colleagues to "advertise" the new survey. Over 360 of you responded, from all over the world, representing all levels of an IT organization. Most of the responses (over 250) were from higher education. 68 represented commercial companies, 32 were in government, and 10 came from non-profit organizations. The results of this survey were interesting and enlightening. I discussed the responses and provided my own insight in an article, "Qualities of an IT professional: Relative Importance," but to review, the survey reveals several lessons about leadership at different levels in an IT organization:

  1. The vanishing value of Technical.
  2. The balancing act of the team lead.
  3. The drop in Interpersonal at the CIO level.

(thanks to Chris Paquette at MOR Associates for the updated diagram)

I'm thinking about re-doing this survey, probably as we reach Spring semester. We are seeing a lot of U of M surveys reaching the IT@UMN folks this Fall semester, so I don't want to launch a new survey of my own when people might be exhausted doing these other ones. So I'll plan to renew the survey in Spring semester, and I'll reach out to you then for help in getting the word out.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Thanks for a great CIC TechForum!

Rex Wheeler II and I co-presented at CIC TechForum this year, discussing "Leadership lessons from unusual places." I sometimes notice leadership lessons hiding in odd places. They are around if you look for them. You can find leadership lessons from many unexpected places, such as these:

Disney's Mulan

Sure, Shan Yu may be the bad guy in that movie, but who says that movie villains can't also be good leaders? And it turns out that Shan Yu is pretty good at developing his team through coaching.

There's a key scene in the movie where Shan Yu decides to return a doll to a little girl in a nearby village. Shan Yu is present as a leader, and takes advantage of a coaching opportunity:

Note how Shan Yu uses this opportune moment to coach his staff. Before offering his own opinion, he asks his team leads for what they can learn by examining the doll. In turn, they each respond with an answer that offers new insight: the doll comes from a village high in the mountains, and the Imperial cannon brigade is there too.

The "coaching button" is something that sticks with your listener. Like the button on a shirt or coat, a "coaching button" doesn't do the whole job, but over time as you use more "coaching buttons" the whole picture comes together. They key is to make those "buttons" easily understood and memorable, able to stand on their own, but part of a larger story.

Shan Yu's comments are brief, memorable, but not overpowering. He is able to offer his own opinion (and decision to return the doll) without discounting the team leads. From what we see in the movie, it seems that Shan Yu has taken advantage of other coaching moments to help his future leaders develop.

"Coaching buttons" are wonderful conversational gifts. Take any available opportunity to do brief coaching conversation with your team. For example, you might find yourself early for a meeting, only one staff member is there, giving a short time for a "coaching button". Never waste an opportunity for coaching, however brief. The "coaching button" might only cover one question without an opportunity for follow-up questions to delve deeper - but if you can find frequent opportunities for several "buttons", I find it can be helpful.

Just like Shan Yu.

General Zod from Superman II

A while back, I found Superman II in my Netflix "Recommended" instant queue, and decided to watch the movie - but skipping past all the "boring" Superman and Lois story, focusing only on the bits with General Zod. Viewed from this angle, Superman II is the heartwarming tale of Zod's arrival on planet Houston to bring peace (notice how wherever he goes, people attack him for no reason - until he moves into the White House) only to be usurped by a smart-aleck orphan from his home planet. It is also a lot shorter.

There are some good leadership lessons in there, too. Just watch Zod. Turns out, he's not that bad, and has some sound advice to follow:

  1. Support your staff development. For example, when one of your senior leadership team develops the ability to set snakes on fire with her eyes, celebrate her achievement.
  2. Delegate tasks effectively. Don't feel you must take down every helicopter on your own.
  3. Communicate your vision in simple terms. And you have to admit "Vengeance on the son of Jor-El" is pretty straightforward.
  4. Be careful of subordinates who try to undermine your authority. They may double-cross you when you least expect it.
  5. Be clear in your desired results. "Kneel before Zod" sets a pretty clear expectation, and others will know when they have done it right.

Relationships and My Little Pony

An important part of leadership is building your relationship network. Relationships are currency—you sometimes need to use your relationships to make deals, smooth over conflicts, and generally just get things done. Do not overlook this part of your leadership development.

Think about your social network. I like to imagine it like a bullseye target, where the closer you are to the center, the "closer" your relationship to me. The center circle is the "circle of trust," the people you might go to for completely confidential advice. These are the people you might ask for help if you were looking for a new job. The next circle contains those people who would help you with a favor. Outside that is the "parking orbit," people who are not very close to you, but with whom you are friendly; you might see them in the hallway or by the elevator, but not interact with them very much. And if you aren't in any of those circles, I call them "potential new friends," people I haven't met yet.

You can arrange your social network even further. Think of who are your personal friends, versus your friends at work. Who are your mentors, the people you look to for inspiration? And who are your peers, people with whom you interact but who are neither "personal" nor "work" friends?

Take a few moments to map out your social network. How "close" would you rate your relationships at work? Consider who you look to if you had a problem, or needed a favor, or simply had a question. Do you have relationships that are so strong you could rely on confidential advice? Do have other relationships where you might only be able to ask for a favor? Who is in your personal "parking orbit," that need a stronger relationship to you? Is there anyone out there that you wish you knew better and who in your personal shares a relationship, and might introduce you to them?

Relationships are currency, and you can use them when you need help or advice. Making friends and building relationships is an important facet of leadership, but it is often a very difficult skill. Many of us in technology are introverts. My educational background is in physics, and a physicist friend of mine often shares this joke that applies here: "What's the difference between an introverted physicist and an extroverted one? The extrovert will look at your shoes."

Let me share leadership lessons on this topic, borrowed from an unexpected place. At the risk of doing yet another leadership post post from this source, I think it actually fits well here. Because what is the show My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic about, if it's not about how to make friends and build relationships. That's probably one reason that the show is so popular outside its target demographic—sometimes we all just need a refresher on how to introduce ourselves to others and form that initial relationship.

There are four steps to building a relationship with someone new. These are sometimes called the "4 I's" of relationships:
  1. Initiate
  2. Inquire
  3. Invest
  4. Inspire
Here's a brief clip showing a borderline-extroverted person meeting a definitely introverted person, overcoming an initial awkwardness to introduce herself and start a relationship. (They become great friends in the show.)

Initiate: "I'm Twilight Sparkle." 
Inquire: "What's your name?"
Twilight Sparkle also asks follow-up questions to get to know the other person. Despite Fluttershy's introverted tendencies, Twilight Sparkle reaches out to get to know the new pony, making sure she heard the name right, and commenting on Fluttershy's birds in the tree.

In this case, Twilight Sparkle only has time for the first two steps. The third step, Invest, will happen over time as Twilight Sparkle continues to renew her friendship with Fluttershy through activities, adventures … or even just a discussion on a sunny afternoon. Over time, Twilight Sparkle can rely on that relationship to inspire Fluttershy to do great things.

You can use the same method of Initiate, Inquire, Invest, Inspire to build your own relationship networks. The more people you know, the better you can navigate your organization and get things done. But don't let your relationships grow stale; fins opportunities to renew your friendships. If you call from someone in your relationship network, take a few moments to catch up before getting down to the task at hand. Or simply call or visit that other person, just to say hi and see what's up. These short moments help to build up your relationship currency.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Kudos for outstanding service

At the IT town hall meeting last week, VPCIO Scott Studham announced the Fall 2013 IT Outstanding Service Award recipients. We received many nominations, and these eleven people stood out as high performers in an exceptional group of nominees. Recipients of the award will receive $2,000 and a special recognition dinner at the Campus Club. The recipients are:

  • Benjamin Larson
  • Chad Fennell
  • Gabe Ormsby
  • Jeff Aspinall
  • Karl Oman
  • KT Cragg
  • Mark McKay
  • Matt Thoen
  • Matt Zaske
  • Peter Angelos
  • Warren Mason

I'd like to identify Matt Zaske from our Computing Services team in Morris. His outstanding service award recognizes his contributions to the computer management community of practice. Great job, Matt!

Remember, nominations for our staff recognition program are driven by you, our IT@UMN community. I encourage you to take note of the special contributions that those around you are making, and to nominate those who are going above and beyond the normal scope of job responsibilities

Monday, October 7, 2013

Innovation Framework

A colleague in HR-IT shared this item with me, and I wanted to share it here. I've often discussed the importance of innovation in technology. Even as far back as 2009, "Innovation" was a major priority in IT. On the small scale, IT managers and directors must provide time for their staff to generate new ideas, to think outside the box, to play with new concepts. Organizations can provide a "framework" or "opportunity" for this exploration. Look at technology giants Google and 3M: through their "20% time" model, staff are granted "free" time during their work week to explore new possibilities.

The University of Minnesota provides a "toolkit" for encouraging innovation: the Innovation Framework. From the website:
This innovation framework provides a way for organizations to identify and advance ideas with the most potential to make an impact. It was developed with particular attention to the University of Minnesota community and with value on transparency and inclusiveness. The framework invites partnership, supports learning and strategic risk-taking, expects ideas to be organic and evolving, and requires intentional evaluation and decision making so that innovative ideas lead to powerful and effective change. 
Does your organization want to cast a wide net for innovative ideas, but aren't sure how to make this happen in an effective manner? The innovation framework can help. It doesn't have all the answers, but it's a great tool for getting the conversation started.

The website is extensive, but consider these starting points:

Start a conversation.
How do ideas get generated, evaluated, and implemented in our organization now? What are some of the strengths and some of the challenges in our current system? What do we see in this model that could help with that? Where does it make sense to bring this model next?
Share with colleagues.
Find out what other people are doing with this framework and share what you are considering. The end result will be different for each unit, but by sharing what we each try and learning from it, we’ll all end up with better innovation processes.
Apply the framework.
Identify who can help make this framework most relevant for your organization. Ground yourself in the four key principles of the model: learning, sharing, supporting, and celebrating.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Changing how and where you work

This week, we hosted a visit from a colleague at the Twin Cities. It is always great to get together with other IT leaders, to hear about how people are facing the challenges of technology on campus.

Jen shared with us how one area of the University is responding to how we work. The increase of wireless networking and online communication and collaboration tools means where we work has become less important.  Enter Work+, an alternative workplace strategy. I find this immediately interesting and intriguing.

Work+ is the University of Minnesota’s alternative workplace strategy program. A partnership between the Office of Human Resources, Office of Information Technology and University Services, Work+ is an integrated program that will enable colleges and units to redesign their workplace to include variety of spaces and technology tools that will support their future needs, along with the training necessary to use them effectively. Work+ empowers employee efficiency, productivity and satisfaction by offering more nimble spaces and technology that enable collaboration and adapt easily to operational and technological changes.

While Work+ can enable groups to be more collaborative and productive in dealing with resource constraints, it requires funding to reconfigure spaces as well as time and training for staff. Additionally, some groups may have already transitioned to a mobile workstyle and not benefit as much from engaging in the Work+ process.

The Work+ project reminds me of several past examples from industry. Andy Grove, as CEO of Intel, famously worked from a cubicle. Grove commented on working from a cubicle: "I need a conference room for private meetings, but most of the time I can read, work at my computer, or have phone conversations very nicely in my office." Similarly, Sun Microsystems was one of many companies to adopt "hoteling" office work environments, where employees can drop into an office, and immediately resume productivity.

Using a system like "hoteling" or Work+ may be an ideal solution for many work environments, but it particularly benefits those offices where staff often roam to work collaboratively with others. On campus, we are unlikely to see this work with faculty, who maintain a personal collection of reference books for their courses or research - something which cannot be easily relocated elsewhere. But IT shops may consider this as a way to maximize space. Set aside meeting spaces, but arrange flexible work spaces for team to "drop in."