Week 36, 2017, “Death By Meeting”

I discovered Patrick Lencioni’s book, Death By Meeting, while employed at Texas Health Partners.  The problem is one many leaders face, how to control the onslaught of uncontrolled meetings.  Upon finding the book and digesting its pages, the strategies outlined were compelling and worth investing in. I made the personal commitment to try it see if it made any difference.  I gave it three months and moving on if unsuccessful.  After transitioning, I was astonished how it changed me and my team.

Here is the approach for my implementation at LANVERA:

Start with daily stand up meeting.  We hold it daily at 9am.  Focus on what is happening today.  The initial goal is getting the team to think tactically about what needs to be accomplished today.  Second goal, learning how to communicate to team members and optomize schedules.  After three weeks, the team had embraced.

Next was scheduling the weekly tactical.  We hold it Monday’s at 11am.  All IT is invited.  I take minutes.  This meeting serves two purposes:  What was accomplished last week and what each team member is working on this week.  Items unresolved are tagged for follow-up next week.  Everyone listens.

This meeting takes time to bear fruit as the teams are forced to think through planning their week, highlighting the support issues, and talking about the accomplishments.  Or lack thereof.  The meeting breaks down into three parts:  Lightning round (2 minutes per team member), KPI/Reporting Review, and Adhoc-Agenda.  Don’t let this meeting exceed 90 minutes.

Last, the monthly and quarterly strategic meetings.  Arguably, the most important part of Lencioni’s book and the hardest meeting to get up and running with consistency.  The meetings break down like this:

The monthly strategic is the “discuss, analyze, brainstorm, and decide upon critical issues affecting long-term success” meeting.  Limit to 2-4 hours, one or two topics, prepare and do research, and ensure participants are engaged in good conflict.

The quarterly strategic is the “review strategy, industry trends, competitive landscape, key personnel, team development” meeting.  Critical meeting, so get out of the office, focus on the work with limited social activities, and limit the structure.  The key is developing leadership cohesion, communication, and working together making decisions.

Strategic meetings will be difficult initally as many will question their value, not want to work collectively, and political leaders will try their hardest to avoid the meeting citing priorities and work while depreciating you and the effort.  Watch for this.

These meetings fail if not everyone is all in.  Culture is king and continual education of the message, the process, and the goals are keys to adoption.

At Texas Health Partners, I cut meetings down by 60% in the first year.  70% the second year.  My monthly meetings capped at a dozen per month my last year.  At Santander Consumer USA, I got leadership buy in the first year and the adoption took six month with considerable resistance culturally.  My last year, my meeting were again at the highest point twelve per month and the teams were routinely sharing information tactically.  A Santander first.

Mileage will, of course, vary by leader.  This month’s milestone marks when I attempt to introduce Strategic meetings at LANBVERA.  More to come on my progress.

Add the book to your reading.  Feel free to email or comment to ask questions.

\\ JMM

Week 35, 2017, “Technology Roadmap”

One of the masterful idea’s contributed by Steve Moore, Director, IT Operations, at Santander Consumer USA, was introducing the Technology Roadmap.  This tool is not just about tracking what technology is owned, but serves a very specific purpose:  managing upgrades, identifying risk, communicating timeframes.

If your looking for a way to set up up transparency in IT systems engineering and communicate timeframes with leadership, this tool accomplishes that aim.  If you need to report to auditors the review cycles and pros/cons to the versionsm, this tool meets that need.

You can find this tool here.

\\ JMM

Week 34, 2017, “R-I-C-E: Integrity”

Recently, our team event focused on the importance of integrity as a part of Team Rule #1, R-I-C-E, Respect, Integrity, Communication, and Excellence.  Here were the take aways from this event:

“We all don’t have the same abilities.  We all do have the same opportunity.”

“Failure to fulfill our potential is not because of talent, intellect, ability, or opportunity, it’s because of a lack of character.”

“A character issue can keep you from getting started, cause you to get stuck, or be the reason for your collapse.”

The three pillars of integrity:  (1) Uprightness – Oriented to the truth, (2) Completeness – Complete and Whole, and (3) Soundness – Strong and Solid.

\\ JMM

Week 33, 2017, “Half the R&D staff will be Programmers…”

“Days before BMW’s 100th birthday, its board member for research and development described plans for a completely overhauled company, where half the R&D staff will be computer programmers, competing with the likes of Google parent Alphabet to build the brains for self-driving cars. (GOOGL.O)” – Article from UK Routers, “Exclusive – At 100, BMW sees radical new future in world of driverless cars”, March 4, 2016

Not commonly known, LANVERA is a 30 year old organization in document solutions. As I walk the print floor, it’s maturity is absolutely felt in the print operation. The professionalism of the team and attention to detail by all the supporting people. Printing documents is our business and we take it serious.

Nevertheless, why our organization is taking a turn is the recognition that this industry must include digital or eDocuments. Our development efforts have been kicked up a notch to focus on making our solution more accessible in the digital world.

Just like BMW, organizations must constantly be looking for ways to offer more valuable services to customers. And like BMW, we are shifting to meet this new challenge.

“LANVERA’s technology and delivery capabilities are the future of our company.” – John Baldridge

\\ JMM

Week 31, 2017, “Obtains Certification = Display Knowledge = Shows Confidence”

“The good news is that certification provides you with a verified foundation of expert, real-world knowledge to build on, so you’ll be ready to ramp up on the job 39% faster than your peers. If you’re still not convinced, 38% of IT pros said that certification helped them perform complicated tasks more confidently. It’s science.” – Born To Learn Blog

We’ve agreed as a team that there is a need for baseline competencies. That skills and experience are vital to our success. If any one area lacks, the team has to compensate for our weak areas that we accepted. When those weak areas accumulate because we couldn’t trust team members to perform complicated tasks, the team fails.

As such, we’ve made a bold move to mandate VMWARE VCA DCV certification as a baseline team member qualification. Expectations laid to stay current. We are implementing advanced VMWARE technologies and there is too much risk to bring in unskilled people.

Goal: Everyone on the team has VCP, MTA, and Nimble certifications.

Before And After Certification\\ JMM

Week 27, 2017, “It’s Go Time”

“Does anyone have any questions on where we are going and your role how to get us there?  No?  It’s go time, team.  Always forward!” – Jonathan Merrill

Here we are at the 60 day mark and we are looking back with awe and anticipation. Although this isn’t the exhaustive list, the highlights are:

1. We hired our system engineering architect, Sonny Mendoza. A US Navy and IT veteran, he brings deep expertise in both the VMWARE and Microsft stack. A proponent of VEEAM and NIMBLE, two complimentary technologies currently in house. His experience in both the SMB and large enterprise space is evident in his questions and answers. He has been an amazing addition to the IT team, bringing in sage experience, a positive energy, and can do attitude.

2. Wrote and implemented IT maintenance policies focusing on patching and security remediation. The policy includes an change freeze period, quarterly reviews and update schedule, and architectural review. Formalizing maintenance was the first step in establishing a relationship and accountability with teams testing patches and reducing risk. Establishing a schedule communicates when IT infrastrucutre will be updated so development and print operations has down range visibility, setting reliable expectations.

3. Implented enterprise password management. Our specific requirements were password sharing with teams, role based access control, automatic password rotation, password auditing and history, Active Directory integration, and high availability. We migrated from a KEEPASS situation to Click Solutions’ Password State.

4. Implemented the enterprise auditing solution. Speaking to vision, the solution needed to give unprecedented transparency to all teams as we marry up audit data with change management practices and and enabling a better support visibility across all teams. Netwrix Auditor is a best of breed tool and is supremely designed for SMB organizations. Microsoft space initially targeted. Additional work still to go covering VMWARE, Exchange, SQL, and networking.

5. Implemented an asset-focused network management tool. Many of my former team members won’t be surprised, but I am firm believer of LANSWEEPER and giving teams’ access to manage their resources. This tool gives teams a birdseye view of whats installed, what errors exist, and health of resources applied. When we rolled this out, teams were presently surprised at what’s going on and assists in the troubleshooting of issues. Now we are collaborating.

6. Exited out of CenturyLink’s hosted services. We are continuing to evaluate our strategic partners and aligning to goals. No fault of CenturyLink, we determined to go another direction. We thank them for their stellar services provided.

7. Implemented the ORC process. Documenting systems should be a part of our DNA. This process enforces the C (Culture) and S (Sharing) in CAMS. We asked for leadership buy in and got it, trained teams, now set goals. 100% by Jan 1.

8. Implemented Death By Meeting’s, “Tactical” and “Stand Up”. Next up is strategic. Goal: Lower adhocs.

All this in 30 days! And doesn’t include the projects in flight. Here are some quick bullets of things we are building:

  • Workstation Technology Refresh. Uplifting the workstation platform, bringing in new tech.
  • Active Diretory Refresh. Cleaning up the past, rolling out RBAC, and enabling teams. Trust, but verify.
  • Network Refresh. Rethinking wireless, local area, and wide area networks. SDN for the win.
  • OpManager Proof of Concept. Manage Engine’s solution is comprehensive. Amazing value for what is delivered.
  • Splunk Proof of Concept. Can anyone argue that Splunk isn’t an amazing tool? Evaluating it’s place.
  • Alien Vault USM Proof of Concept. Having had experience with Nessus, Qualys, Nexpose, Alien Vault is a challenger.
  • Data Operations Proof of Concept. Automating core functions internally. Managing 10k scripts or jobs requires control.
  • Intranet / Employee Portal.  Rethinking SharePoint’s place.

It’s go time.

\\ JMM

Week 26, 2017, “Vision”

We are coming up on the 60d mark at LANVERA and wanted talk about information technology’s vision for 2017.   In the first 30d, Steve and I had multiple conversations with various leaders throughout the organization about priorities, needs, and vision.  A central theme emerged. How can we take IT to the next level, enabling our software development teams to build and test quicker without encumberance? How do we monitor key pieces of the technologies faster and leverage automation? How do we give more traditional IT functions to business units so we can more efficiently support our customers? How do we do knowledge management protecting intellectual property? And how can IT help infuse a positive values culture?

My recommendation to Steve is what I’ve expoused for over a decade: A culture of enablement, services, and transparency.  Let’s unpack these three areas.

IT Enablement.

Giving our people the freedom and resources they say they need to do their job. Traditional IT is the top-down command and control approach that is arguably out dated and killing organizations abilities to be agile. Traditional IT’s leaders have the ability to control, but that is not where innovation comes from, is it? If we want LANVERA to feel like owners, what must give our people exactly that: ownership. This includes access rights, privledges, and determination of their tools. IT’s role will be to give them the framework, healthy auditing, and constant oversight. This will let teams do what they need to do: Be awesome. And not just our development teams. All teams.

IT Services.

IT as a utility is not a new concept and dominates the cloud model. It’s successful because it’s utilitarian approach. However, what if IT’s role is that of consultants leveraging our resources? Traditional IT’s reactive approaches are usually the result of poor IT to business engagement. Or worse, poor strategic planning with the business and IT alike. This divides and compounds. IT will offer menus of services and cost, including professional services. Teams will choose what they need, when they need it, and the resource cost of that service delivery. IT is the consultancy to the business that encorporates not just core IT functions, but how we can partner with teams to do more leveraging IT. To achieve, we crank up IT’s role as educator and communicate far far more.

IT Transparency.

Technical people not given good intel or access to actionable information will make assumptions about your network. This silo’ing of information breeds fear, uncertainty, and doubt across teams. Once made, hard to reverse perceptions, especially if baked over time. If we are going to embrace DevOps, we have to show a commitment to CAMS: Culture, Automation, Measurement, and Sharing. I’ve tested this theory over my career and have been surprised every time: the more information you give, the better the decisions are made, especially during crisis. As we monitor and measure, we’ll ensure all teams have access to these systems. All teams will see how resources are utilized, changed, and managed. We’ll also include audit data like who, when, what, how. Working as a team means establishing trust and accountability as a part of the culture. We start with ourselves.

The Direction.

Transform IT from a top-down production support focused team stuck in reactive and manual states to a infrastrucutre services based team focusing on network health, security, and reliability.  Key strategic initiatives include focusing on security postures, auditing, monitoring, and automating core functions. Others include technology refreshes, examining our strategic partner relationships, and working towards vision through the three IT culture pillars.

“You know, Jonathan, that all sounds great, but you really haven’t said how your going to do all that.”

Your right.  And if your reading this, your on this journey with me.  More to come.

\\ JMM

Week 23, 2017, “Find Your Team”

“The best prize life has to offer is a chance to work hard at work worth doing. And I would add that what makes work worth doing is getting to do it with people you love. Find your team.” – Leslie Knope, Season 7, Ep13, One Last Ride: Part 2

I will admit, I’ve never watched one episode of Parks and Recreation.  My wife asked if we could watch the last episode and, agreeing apprehensively, off we go.  Although I didn’t get much context to characters, this line caught me towards the end of the show:  Find your team.

So true.  So hard to do.  And blessed when we can.

Find your team and do great work.  Yes, I will.

\\ JMM