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By Jonathan Merrill on 4/11/2014 1:51 PM

What’s your IT organizations’ philosophy?  Look hard.  Now step back and think about.  Such a simple question.  Should be simple to answer.  But I wager it rarely is.  Especially in lieu of the avalanche of service delivery expectations and coupled with mountains of overdue projects, somehow the work gets done.  But, I often look at the cost.  Then ask the questions:  Why are we here?  How did we get here?

Give to us clear vision that we may know where to stand and what to stand for—because unless we stand for something, we shall fall for anything.
~~Peter Marshall (1902–67) Senate chaplain, prayer offered at the opening of the session, April 18, 1947.—Prayers Offered by the Chaplain, the Rev. Peter Marshall … 1947–1948, p. 20 (1949). Senate Doc. 80–170.

My Comments Pondering The Question Of IT Philosophy

#4.  Does your IT organization’s mission statement enforce your philosophy?

Every place I’ve ever been lacked a mission statement.  Only one IT leader in my experience, whom I had the pleasure working with, started with the importance of mission statement.  Then held the department to that standard.  When we crafted the mission statement, we carefully considered not only what we are signing ourselves on for, but communicated our philosophy.  These teams won victories than lost.  These teams had incredible morale versus those without.

#3.  Does your IT strategic plan run concurrently with IT philosophy?

Next was how we approached the IT strategic plan.  In keeping with the philosophy, we carefully measured out the next milestones organizationally.  Careful taking on too much versus not meeting the objectives outlined by the business.  Our strategic plan was then shared across IT, so as to ensure the teams understood not just what was coming.  But to communicate with singular voice the plan, evangelize what we are doing, and get people on board with it.

#2.  Does the IT staff understand and embrace the department’s philosophy?

Repetition can be one of the key methods to drive consistency in message and action.  A hard push communicating methodology and practices goes hand in hand with driving these outcomes.  And like leaders in battle, your weakest link is the soldier on the battlefield who doesn’t understand what they are fighting for.  Leaders should be communicating a singular front on philosophy, leading by example, and evangelizing the wins when philosophy pays off.

#1.  Does The Philosophy Hurt, Hinder, or Help the Organization?

This comment is the toughest as weaker leaders will constantly bend their philosophy to the organizations’ will, citing the need to constantly cross the chasm to partner with the various business units.  I call this “Doormat IT”.  In contrast, stronger leaders will make minute adjustments to stay the course for the long haul, acting as consultants to the business, providing leadership and education as, like anything man made, things do break.

Every Organization Is Different, But My Winningest IT Philosophies Are:

1.  Mission Oriented Protective Postures – In other words, while performing our work keeping security, safety, and making informed responsible decisions at the forefront.  Not needlessly exposing the business to risk by acting irresponsible, such rushing to get things done, no planning, blaming others, and not knowing the technology.

2.  Culture of Learning and Growth – Building an atmosphere where learning and growing skill is just as important as customer service and project execution.  Incentivize skill growth by not just goal building, but giving opportunities to grow and using train the trainer methodology to teach others.

3.  Cultivation of Communication and Documentation – Practicing effective communication verbally and in writing, growing workgroup based communication, and teaching when and how to document methodologies and technology.

4.  Benchmark and Measure IT – Just like anything else in business, if you can’t measure it you can’t manage it.  Identifying workflow processes and technologies that are benchmark-able.  Not just trouble tickets and work orders.  Automation improving workflow to improve time to close as an example.  Showing faster responses to technology as you or your people’s IT skills grow.

5.  Strategic versus Reactionary – Chinese fire drills versus intentional fire prevention.  Leading the technology direction that complements the business direction.  Planning and execution of identifiable tangible objectives with real benefit to the business.  Stop the fire fights!

\\ JMM

By Jonathan Merrill on 4/4/2014 7:22 AM

Here is a quote from the book that outlines this issue:

"I'm certain that to learn from a place, you have to study how its culture functions. A great fallacy born from the failure to study culture is the assumption that you can take a practice from one culture and simply jam it into another and expect similar results. Much of what bad managers do is assume their job is simply to find new things to jam and new places to jam them into, without ever believing they need to understand how the system--the system of people known as culture--works." – From the book, “The Year Without Pants”.

We talk a lot of culture on this blog.  And for those who know me well, you know I am a firm believer that success in Information Technology is more dependent on culture than the technology.  Here are a few topics to chew on.

“Culture Eats Strategy For Breakfast”

When I look at a company’s information technology needs, I like to look at it through the glasses of the business and apply it through a strategic plan.  I find the adage of a an ounce of planning equals one pound of production holds true.  Nevertheless, Peter Drucker has it right.  The best strategies succeed or fail based on culture.  Culture trumps strategy every time.

“Culture Cannot Be Forced.  It Must Be Nurtured”

When an undesired culture takes root, it often isn’t easy to change it.  I think we can agree that most cultures are established from the top going down depending on how large the organization is.  Although, I’ll admit that in incredibly large organizations, such as Citibank, I witnessed a multi-cultural divide where three distinct cultures existed due to the silo’d nature of the business overall.

That said, I’ve had many talks in my career with leaders and staff alike discussing both positive and negative cultures.  In my opinion, the more positive cultures are less likely to be forced, employ concepts such as the knowledge and just cultures, measures, and understand the importance of people’s contribution at all levels.

“No vs. Empowerment Cultures”

Ok, we’ve established cultures are often established from the top down and the best cultures must be nurtured in a positive direction.  What about a common phenomena of saying no in Information Technology.  In other words, the least privilege mind set with the goal of protecting data or controlling access.  Or denying features and functions with the goal of being able to support the business reliably.

My information technology philosophy has always relied on the empowerment idea.  Sure, a good information security plan does include ensuring rights and permissions exist.  However, once the No culture takes root, it grows like a weed in an otherwise healthy lawn, extending to other things, till it becomes easier to say no than to say yes.  The more No that is put in place, the less empowerment leaders and people have to grow.  Be wary of no cultures.

Final Thoughts

In the twenty years of being in information technology in the various industries, I can attest that each place I landed had a unique culture from which I learned.  Read the above book and recent discussions about these important topics drove writing this blog.  I feel fit and culture go hand in hand.  Put another way, ask these questions:  Am I a fit for this culture?  Can I grow and achieve professional goals in this culture?  Are you empowered to kick ass or are you stifled and told to just do your job?

\\ JMM
By Jonathan Merrill on 3/28/2014 8:29 PM

I thought I was really well armed during my recent trip to Maine. I brought my trusty Dell Latitude 10 tablet with charger, my Dell E6410 laptop with Rocketship charger, my APC USB external battery, and my (cough, cough) iPhone. And everywhere I went, technology failed me somehow. I am amazed that it’s 2014 and the state of internet access in hotels and in the north eastern parts of the US is just flat horrible.

Delta Flight’s GoGo Internet Service

During the flight from Dallas to New York, I decided to try the on flight internet access. I wanted to see what kinds of speeds I could expect and catch up on email, blogs, etc. This service is, of course, not free and elected to do only the 30 minute for $7.00 access. If I recall correctly, all day access was $15 and probably makes more sense on long flight, but the idea was to try it.

I connected using the Latitude 10 and got a connection right away. The initial browser page came up a d was fairly responsive. Once I selected the pay option, things started getting dicey. After entering my name and address, the system lagged horribly with multiple timeouts. 2-3 minutes between screens. I after ten minutes, I finally got to the credit card screen where it continually timed out. Never got access and was never able to try it out. Calling over a flight attendant yielded no positive result. He explained the system was assuredly too busy and apologized. Wow.

Verdict: FAIL.

Hertz’s Rental Car – Toyota RAV4 + iPhone

After a eventful trip, I was very glad to get to the airport in Manchester and pick up a rental to head to Maine. I elected to upgrade to a mid-size as we had luggage and a long drive in a compact is not fun. Never drove a Toyota RAV4 before and my initial impression was so-so. The instrumentation was not laid out very well, not very intuitive, but the driving experience was fairly solid. Our gas mileage was about 23 miles per gallon. Didn’t complain there.

My phone needed a charge and I plugged into the USB port below the radio. The radio found the device and charged without fail. I even played music from the “iPod” option. So far, so good. But that is the end of the pleasantness. Every day afterwards, I plug the phone in and got “ Connection Error”. Being the IT guy, I troubleshot the issue for nearly an hour to no avail. Six straight days and no iPhone access in the car. What a bummer. Strangely, on the way back to the airport, it started working again. No explanation as to why. Infuriating. System is buggy.

Verdict: Driving experience is a PASS. Using your iPhone connected USB is a FAIL.

Holiday Inn at the bay, Portland, Maine – Free Wi-Fi

Due to the rural part of Maine where my grandparents and extended family lives, I spent the majority of the week without Internet access or cell service. I was jonesing by the time we got into Portland. The hotel proclaimed free Wi-Fi to guests, standard fare these days. After getting the password from the front desk, I attempted to Wi-Fi to mostly abysmal results. No matter where I took the tablet or laptop, I never got more than two bars in the room. I literally walked around the room. Now, I might understand if we were at the edge of the hotel. But, our room was in the center of hallway!

No internet access. Spotty coverage. I contacted the front desk and was told they would look into it. I was there two days and nothing improved. In this day and age, there is no excuse for bad Wi-Fi coverage or internet access. I actually do this for a living and know better,

Verdict: Fail

Manchester-Boston Regional Airport, Manchester, New Hampshire – Free Wi-Fi

I was actually surprised the airport offered free Wi-Fi. Connectivity was quick and easy. Maybe I will finally get on the Internet!!! Alas, to complete the circle of disconnections and disappointment, I got on and could go nowhere. Internet was very laggy. Lots of time outs and I just gave up after 30 minutes just trying to read the news on msn.com.

Verdict: Fail.

Miscellaneous Mishaps

As if connectivity wasn’t frustrating me enough, the rocketship plug stopped working half way into the trip and no longer would charge the E6410. The APC battery stopped working also and refused to take a charge. The only device that worked well was the Latitude 10, but too bad I didn’t load my tools on it or I would have treated you with screenshots and speed tests. I use the tablet for mostly document reading, Kindle eBooks, and email. So, its usefulness wasn’t maximized as I had hoped.

Final Thoughts

I am thoroughly disappointed in the state of connectivity I encountered across New Hampshire and into Maine, I expected more. Especially at hotel prices over $200 a night. Is service levels really this bad? Before you say hotspot, I tried that too to. AT&T cell and data coverage was very spotty in north Maine. It was ok in Portland, but data speeds were mediocre, slow in fact. Amanda has T-Mobile and her connectivity was actually much better, but her speeds were equally horrible. I tried using her hotspot function and it was just plain unworkable. Sigh.

// JMM

By Jonathan Merrill on 3/21/2014 1:40 PM

Voltaire was once quoted saying, “Le mieux est l'ennemi du bien”, or translated “The perfect is the enemy of the good.”  I was recently told by a senior IT leader about the hazards of being perfect and accepting the philosophy of the “80/20 rule”, where 80% is good enough and we need to get comfortable with not getting the other 20%.

Pretty incredible statements from a leader and indicative of the culture as a whole.  Do you agree with him?

What if only 80% of planes didn’t crash?

What if the police only enforced the law 80% of the time?

What if your bank thought being 80% correct was good enough when handling your money?

What Is 100%?

Is being perfect meaning doing your job 100% of the time?  I say the answer is no.  There are four benchmarks I feel better answer the “perfection” question:

80% = Unacceptable.  If you ask customers, this is not acceptable.  Yet, this is the new norm.  Go do a Internet search on “80% good enough” and see how any articles come up.  Story after story of companies falling down, perpetuating and teaching a culture of mediocrity.  I say this is not where we should be nor should we tolerate operating at this level.

90% = Below Expectations.  This is where most people live and operate.  The culture of exceptions.  Often, we have to fudge it to get the rest of the way.  Which is how checkbooks become pennies off, where uptime is calculated, and the majority cite as being “realistic”.  I say 90% is just as bad as 80% as it is as conducive to the reflection of the organization as it is how the customer perceives service delivery.  90% is the equivalent of being second place.

100% = Expectations.  This is where we all should be.  Consistent outcomes live here.  The goal is process and procedures should be executed at this level and accept no substitute.  This shouldn’t be vaporware, but the law!   KPI should be measured against this, especially around quality.  100% is winning, in my opinion.  Operate here and your service delivery value organizationally far exceeds what one man can do.

110% = Perfect.  This is where perfection lives and breathes.  Not only performing to expectation, but exceeding expectation through extraordinary quality and exceptional detail, creating amazing value.  This is nirvana, arguably.  And I would admit impossible operationally.  110% may be hard to calculate mathematically, but we know it exists as we see it not just by process execution, but by customer behavior and your team’s demonstrated hard work paying off.  Giving 110% is what we tell our people, don’t we?

\\ JMM

By Jonathan Merrill on 3/14/2014 1:06 PM

Reading along the blogs these past few weeks, I’ve noticed an uptick in leadership articles.  And I’ll stay away from the tips and tricks, but it’s got me thinking.  How important is strong leadership really?  If the senior leadership knows the business and hires awesome people, shouldn’t that be enough?

Take this comment from Kapil Raghavendra:

“However, in my humble opinion, we may need to consider one more important aspect for the the All-start team to truly remain an All-start team. A leader with the capacity to lead them. It's no good getting a team of Avengers together if you don't have someone like Fury controlling them. A team like that without strong leadership is a ticking time-bomb, its just a question of time before a Hulk brings down the house. The challenge with All-start team is not keeping them in control, honestly we can't, but its knowing how much to let them loose. The challenge is ensuring that their actions are for the good of the company and are in line with the overall objective. It's unlikely that all members in the team will have the necessary insight and the foresight to make right decisions on what actions can and cannot to be taken within their capacity of being a part of a larger whole. This is where someone like Fury is so crucial without whom we might not need external competition to sink the establishment, our best team will do it for us.“

Aaron Ping

‘Agree with Kapil, but I would alter a few points of language. You can't really control the Avengers, but you can channel their energy appropriately. It's not about control - it's about putting people where they can have the best impact and support the team well.”

“… The trick is to recognize that not everyone is the same. Look at a chessboard and see how the different pieces support each other. Your people can be thought of similarly - you play a bishop differently from a knight.”

Kyle Eschberger

Managers are a dime a dozen, leaders are rare. Most people don't understand the difference, even if they say they do. Managers don't trust you; leaders make it safe for you to take risks. Managers control, leaders nurture. Managers manipulate (direct), leaders allow you to grow.

\\ JMM

By Jonathan Merrill on 3/7/2014 9:10 AM

Or is it called Orion now?  That moniker has disappeared on the website now and many just call it Solarwinds.  Although, that’s not true either as Orion is made up of many modules.  And what is turned off and on depends on your wallet.  Many of my peers just call it Solarwinds, so lets’ stick to that.  But, I digress.

It has been a long time coming this topic.  And my current employer chose Solarwinds based on an internal recommendation to “solve all your ills”.  He has since departed and we now have this tool that is everything we want it to have.  I am not begrudging my Austin peeps nor the success this company has had, Solarwinds does work.  It monitors everything.  And their people are crazy smart.

I am, however, saying that Solarwinds may be an awesome engineer’s monitoring tool, I just don’t like because… it doesn’t excitement me.  It is a boring tool, a frustrating tool, it’s not easy to master, has gotchas, and has been this way for years and years.  Here are my gripes:

#4.  Death By 1000 Alert Options.

This product has a crazy amount of alerting options.  You can actually fuzzbust your fuzzbuster, there is so many alert configuration options.  My biggest complaint is to get the functionality, you need to exit the web interface and fire up the alerts configuration tool.  An application off to the side, because in 2015, we can’t put this functionality on the web.  Oh, we can?  Who is doing that?  Everyone is?!?!  What the heck, guys?

In practice, we had so many alerts configured in so many different ways, the alerts stepped on each other and we crashed our alert server.  We literally sent 1,000,000 alerts daily for a few weeks.  Once we realized our folly and the madness of allowing so many people access to create their own fiefdoms of alerts, it took 3 weeks to clear out the alert backlog.  Solarwinds fault?  No.  But a true story nevertheless.

#3.  So Many Modules.

One of Solarwinds strength’s is it’s extensibility through modules.  The bolt on approach can enable the tool quickly and the potential is limitless.  The approach is the right one and love the capabilities present.  However, the problem is less about capability and more about the lack of a 360 degree perspective across the platform’s modules.  Drilling down into IP addresses or application types, down to the host level or network layer.  Sure, you can do this in individual modules, but each module has a limited set of integrated features, separated by the tabs at the top.  So, there is a good chance to find the information your looking for, you’ll need to dive into two+ tabs to get the full picture.  Not cool.

Because of this loose coupling, each module doesn’t feel full featured and I am left wanting for features I find in other product offerings.  IPAM has it’s own discovery separate from NPM auto-discovery?  Where is the unified work engine with triggers depending on criteria for each module?

Where is the smooth transition between modules… Oops, that’s leads to #2.

 

#2.  Tired User Interface.

Solarwinds’ interface is way way way… way overdue for a refresh.  It’s interface is reminiscent of 80s disco:  Cool and hip, but tired and old fashioned.  I see some hints here than there of some changes, but where is HTML5?  Where is the customization on the dashboard?  The tabs are horribly placed.  What do you mean I can’t customize a tab?  Why does the content look so dated?

 

#1.  Tiring User Experience.

As a monitoring tool, sure it functional.  Crazy functional.  But as an enterprise network operations center dashboard, it’s not that great.  In fact, as user interface tool, the data does not mean what it always says.  Look at Figure 1, Nodes with Problems.  Green means what?  The node is up.  Not that there is a problem.  Just looking at the hosts don’t tell the story and tuning the story is not easy in comparison with other tools.  In fact, it’s just not designed with that in mind.  Because it’s a tool designed for another class of people.

Where is the drill down experience?  Finding stuff is not always easy as module has it’s own search bar.  The host information is cluttered and not easy to read creating the need to scroll.  I hate scrolling.  And I would expect there to me a lot more integration and symbiosis between the modules, linking easily within the hosts.  There doesn’t seem to be an intelligence between the hosts giving the 360 view.  Just tack-ons to the existing tired infrastructure.

I could go on for another page, but frankly, the user experience is designed for the Y2K Cisco engineer and not the masses.  I want a tool that gives me vision and not wears me out trying to find the reasons.

\\ JMM

By Jonathan Merrill on 2/28/2014 8:29 PM

EMC hosted an sales event mixed with Transformers the movie, which turned into a social and team building event for EMC’s good customers.  As they ticked through their sales deck, there was one page that caught my attention.  “Behold the wall of insignificance”, as the sales guy pointed at these companies:

 

 

 

The sales guy continued… “Misreading the signs… One wrong turn… Bad decisions…. And you could find yourself insignificant, just like these companies.”

Insignificance is not my calling… Nor is it yours… Nor should it be… Very powerful statements…

\\JMM

By Jonathan Merrill on 2/21/2014 3:48 PM

I recently attended an DFW IT Professionals meeting to see and watch a presentation regarding DevOps.  It’s picking up steam amongst many IT circles and I’ve read a few articles about it’s importance.  Below is a YouTube video of the presentation previously given at a DevOps conference.

Highly recommended viewing:


\\ JMM

By Jonathan Merrill on 2/14/2014 12:26 PM

I wrote an email to my team I’d like to share…


Good morning, team.

“Neo, sooner or later you're going to realize just as I did that there's a difference between knowing the path and walking the path…” – The Matrix Movie (1999)

Ok, so now you’re an SME.  What does that mean?  What are the expectations?  What are the next steps?  Let me answer those questions here for you as this is the tip of the blade when we talk about the knowledge culture.

What Does It Mean To Be A Subject Matter Expert?

Subject Matter Experts (SME’s) are the go-to people in an organization. SME’s have an oversized value to the organization as a whole as the level of expertise, knowledge, and wisdom is what the organization counts on to benefit the organizations’ ability to execute, ability to respond, and support functions during break/fix.  That value intensifies as time goes on, as the material grow and matures, and your level of competence as a SME will be determined by how well you keep up your knowledge base.

Being an SME is centrist for developing a successful career, especially in IT.  While our industry favors a “jack of all trades” approach, especially in the Microsoft and VMWARE spaces, you’ll find that only a few rise to the top as their knowledge is honed on very specific topics.  The “master of none” is how many in IT get stuck in generalist roles and never grow to their potential.  Instead, the SME concept is to be a “jack of all trade, master of some…”

From an organization perspective, we bring in the SME’s on subject matter during problems, during changes that effect that space, and serve a consulting role, especially during Strategy meetings.  Further, SME’s play a positive role in ensuring cross-training and competence is establish on the team.  If any of these fall, the SME is responsible for that gap and needs to do his or her part in ensuring the team learns up quick.

Ways To Develop A Subject Matter Expert Knowledge Base

There may be other ways, but here are the top five I would consider:

1. Read the publications and web sites dedicated to your area of desired expertise

It is amazing how much information you can find out and how much you can learn from targeted reading in the area of your expertise. This particular step is especially important to develop the theoretical side of the area of your expertise as well as understanding the trends for your area.  Doing a simple Google search on your area of expertise can yield ten places to start reading. As you do this daily, those sites will link to other sites on your subject. Going to those places will expose you to even more. After a while, you will settle on ten to twenty sites that provide you the kind of information you are looking for to learn more about your subject area.

2. Join professional organizations and associations in your subject area

These could be true professional organizations with local professional chapters (such as the Project Management Institute), intelligently selected groups on LinkedIn not associated with a professional organization, or an informal group of like-minded individuals in your local area who work in the area you want to learn about.  The benefit of these groups is that you bridge the theory to the practical. A local professional chapter cares about the theory of something — but they want to solve a problem they have and will share how they did so with others in the group.

3. Answer questions. So you can get asked more questions.

Be willing to answer questions about your area from others. If you don’t know the answer, go research the question until you get the answer or answers. This will increase your knowledge. Plus, the person asking the question will appreciate getting an answer and will tell others. Getting asked questions, researching the answers, giving the answers and getting more questions will exponentially increase your expertise. This knowledge will consist of both the theoretical as well as the immanently practical answers to pressing problems. The more you know, the more you will be asked, resulting in knowing even more by researching the answers.

4. Attend organized formal training.

Our organization does not object to formalized training.  The vast majority may require an investment in time and money to attend.  It’s my opinion that organized formal training is less effective on foundation topics and steadily more effective the more advanced the concepts and learning material are.  Nevertheless, the SME should always keep an eye out on training opportunities as they are out there.  In fact, if you look hard enough, some are free.

5. Certification

Experience + Certification = Exceptional Value.  Find out what it takes to get the certification.  That roadmap is a very good way to get what is needed to understand the various competencies contained within the subject matter area.  Picking up the certification not only demonstrates competence, but shows mastery to peers and a personal benefit in achieving a career goals through continuing education.  To me, this is the value of certification and, if used right, is a powerful tool for IT leaders and alike building the knowledge culture.

Expectations Of A Subject Matter Expert

1. Build And Maintain Your Knowledge Base

Now your assigned to the SME, it’s time to build competency.  Using the ideas above, dive in.  If you’re stuck or needing help, please talk to me and we can work together, but how you do it and what tools you use, is completely up to you.

2. Cross-Train The Team

On our team, it’s the SME’s responsibility to maintain competence on subject matter areas that are assigned.  How that is done is completely up to the SME.  Although tried and true methods for training are fine, I find in my experience that the more unique and engaged the training is, the better the recipient retains the information.  In the end, the SME’s performance is judged at how well the team knows the content and how effective the SME is in that particular area.

3. Participate

Being a SME also means participating in meetings, discussion, writing knowledge base articles, etc..  In other words, never stop  looking for opportunities to educate people.

In Summary

I hope this document served a positive purpose with what I am hoping to achieve on the SE:OPS team.  Foremost, ensuring you guys understand what I am expecting.  Let’s make it so, team.

\\ JMM

By Jonathan Merrill on 2/7/2014 10:21 PM

Here are a few notes I recently took during a leadership talk I attended.

What Does Leading Forward Mean?

  • Vision to anticipate what comes next.
  • Having the courage to do what needs to be done.

What Does Leading Forward Take?

  • A commitment to clarity about the present reality.
  • A faith filled perspective.
  • A good memory.  Not constantly looking back, but understanding history so as not to repeat mistakes.
  • Courage to go it alone.

\\ JMM

JMM

Father, Leader, Mentor,
Educator, Evangelist,
Problem Solver, Visionary,
Strategist, Architect,
and Technology Professional

 

       

 

       


"The views and opinions expressed in articles, publications, and in any comments located on this website are those of mine personally and are not necessarily representative of current or former employers."
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