Spinning plates as hard as I can…

Routinely, it’s easy to get into deep water with tickets and projects.  Here is an email exchange between one of my team members, JC Foster, and I.


Jon Foster

Where does this fall on my priority list?

  • Tickets
  • AD Project
  • PBX Project
  • Office 365 Project
  • Visual Studio Project
  • Teams rollout

I am spinning plates as hard as I can here.


Jonathan Merrill

Thank you for asking.  My own list is overwhelming.  The organization is hustling.  Projects are piling up and plates are falling as only so much can be done to keep those spun.  Let me turn you onto a recent EntreLeadership podcast, #263 – Thriving in the Age of Overload.  Skip to the Daniel Tardy’s talk about, “The Tyranny of the Urgent”.

Questions Needing Answered When Looking At Your Workload

  1. Does it have to be done?  Can we eliminate it?
  2. If I can’t eliminate, can I automate it?  ß This is where I feel the most work needs to be done.
  3. If I can’t automate it, can I delegate it?  Let someone else do it.
  4. If I can’t delegate it, is it urgent?  Is it a fire?
  5. If it is urgent, how do we approach, getting the right people in the room?   Most often, someone’s fire is not a fire to the organization.

Our temptation is everything is on the list is a fire.  We need to prioritize on impact and urgency based on the most impact to the most people.

If you’ve listened to the pod cast, tasks (or WIP) should be limited 3.  So, looking at this list, here is my recommendation where your head should be at:

  1. Tickets – I agree.  Although take care against this taking up 100% of your day.  Handle Critical and Highs only.  Sometimes, that means contacting customers, negotiating and adjusting the criticality.
  2. Visual Studio Project – Most impact.  Most urgent.  Key to our business.
  3. Office 365 Project  – Most impact.  Most urgent.

This is an exercise everyone can do.  And should be aligned to what is on our team Kanban.

\\ JMM

Hiring in Robert Britten…

“A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.” – John C. Maxwell

It’s not very often you run into exceptional leaders who believe in what you believe, who care at the same level you too care, and execute at the same level and often better than you. I’ve been in this business for a long time and meeting Robert Britten was one of the high points of my career.

He took the reigns at Santander Consumer USA from another colleague of mine, Shaun Hendricks. The team he took on was troubled and when he got going, I admit I was skeptical. Robert is unassuming, humble, and eloquent. Something is wrong with this guy… After working with him for a couple of months, boy was I wrong. After six months, I knew I had a partnership that I would come to trust and rely on in both my professional and personal faith life.

Robert is a titan leader and I am proud to announce he has accepted the position of Director, Technical Services at Lanvera. Rob is going to head up a operations team which has responsibilities across multiple disciplines: application support, database support, and production services support. His team is central to service delivery, connecting infrastructure, development, and client services teams.

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When to Cut Partners Not Meeting Expectations…

“What got you here, won’t get you there” – Dr. Marshall Goldsmith

This post isn’t about leadership, coaching, or ways to win.  It’s in the context of when you have to make the hard decision and cut a partner or vendor that has been in your service for many years.   Why?  I’ve done it wrong many a time.  It wasn’t good.

Any sales guy worth their salt will tell you it’s all about the relationship and, in my time, that advice is right.  I’ve gotten more done on the backs of relationships than not.  I’d even bet that I was more successful with the relationship than without.   That kind of deep partner.  The kind that involve knowing each others’ spouses, kids names, where they go to school, sharing the good times and the bad.

So, what to do when the partnership no longer performs to standard?  When should you cut bait and move onward?  Here is some of my practical advice having been through those scenarios.

#5.  Measure against Expectations.  I am one of those guys who preach, “you can’t manage what you can’t measure.”  If partners aren’t performing, can you quantify your unhappiness?  Are you able to explain the failure against what is contracted?  Even if it’s outlined in a statement of work, the key is “outcomes” and ensuring expectations are laid.  The more nebulous or gray it’s kept, the harder this will be to enforce.

#4.  Give Feedback Often I sometimes include contractors in my quarterly  evaluation.  I mandate minimum annual review of yearly contracts against our organizations’ outcomes.  This is the administrata.  However, what I am referring to is getting on the phone at least quarterly and letting your partners know how they are doing is good business.  Even if it’s a difficult conversation.  Let them know what the issues are as they happen.  Let partners attempt to fix.  This goes to the root of a good relationship.

#3.  Have a Plan.  After multiple conversations and no progress made, it’s time to formulate an exit strategy from your partner.  Examine contracts, look at work product, what is your obligations, how did they violate, was it reasonable effort to resolve?  Look at replacements, can you transition easily, what is necessary to transition?  Cost deltas?  Time impacts?  Have a plan to move.

#2.  Warn Before You Cut.  Plan in place, I’d give it one more opportunity to fix.  Relationships are hard to build and long to cultivate.  Give them the final meeting where it’s on the line:  change or we move on.  If hands are tied and your partner isn’t responding fairly, then you know what you need to do.

#1.  Always Treat With Respect.  As much as our instinct is to light a fire and watch it burn, how you leave the relationship speaks volumes about your character an professionalism.  Not to mention reflective of your company.  Send the letter formally terminating the relationship and stop paying the bill.  Then walk away and don’t look back.  Move on with respectfulness.

Food for thought.

\\ JMM

Cross Training Teams in a Knowledge Culture

“Learning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere.”
— Chinese Proverb

There is so many things IT people need to know these days.  Gone are specializations in many organizations.  Yep, IT pros must know 20 to 30 different types of technologies to remain relevant and competitive.  In fact, as I interview younger candidates, there is evidence the new generation of IT people already have these skills and more.

And that’s just infrastructure.  All organizations expect IT people to know core business applications.  Specifically, how they relate to the organization and customer, technical work flows, monitoring, and on and on.  How does an organization tackle it all while keeping IT pros at least tuned into the periphery?

How I’ve done this historically is this idea of knowledge culture and DevOps’ “Sharing” idea, where team members present material via a TED talk.  Below is my deck on peer learning.  I hope you find it applicable.

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Why We Need and How We Execute Strategic Meetings

Speaking strictly of Patrick Lencioni’s vision of Death By Meeting, the strategic meeting is the hardest meeting to get off the ground.  Although, I argue it’s the most critical.  At LANVERA, we’ve succeeded at stand up and tactical.  Easy parts.  Now, onto strategic…

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LANVERA’s System Engineering Team – 2018

“NIHIL SINE MAGNO LABORE”
– Translated ‘Nothing Without Hard Work’

Rebuilding technology is no small feat.  It takes people who are willing to work the extra hours, have the attention to detail, put their technical skill to the test, and work with peers who expect the same.  It takes a team.

ITO SE 2018

LANVERA System Engineering Team – 2018

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Rob England IS the IT Skeptic

“You don’t change culture team by team or app by app. You don’t get to pick and choose where you DevOps. You can do it for a while – operating bi-modally – in order to experiment, to allow new ways of working to incubate, but it is essential to converge quickly. DevOps is not a piecemeal tool, it is an organisational transformation.” – The IT Skeptic Blog, July 22, 2017

This blog isn’t about DevOps.  There are now thousands to choose from with authors off all walks.  This blog is about Rob England and his blog, The IT Skeptic.

If you haven’t read this blog, start.  It’s a must read.  In fact, I’ve spent evenings rolling through his old content to follow his train of thought in the hottest topics all IT shops struggle with:  How to do IT service delivery, effectively.  It’s an art.  It’s not simple.  And done poorly, costs organizations dearly.

I do not have a recommendation where to start.  If you read his last blog, currently on December 5, 2017, it’s titled, “Project Management was the worst thing that ever happened to IT“… Wow.  And right on target.  Do organizations think this way?  Most can not.

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Companies Expect Updated Information Security Documents

“Below is a list of documents that is requested by a vendor management company.   Information Technology needs to be able to provide these documents on demand:

-Information Security Policies (Current)

-Cyber/Network Security Policies with Testing Requirements and Results (i.e. Vulnerability and/or Penetration Testing) (Current)

-Incident Response Policies with client notification protocols (Current)

-Disaster Recovery/Business Continuity Plan(s) (Current)

-Disaster Recovery Testing Results (Current)

Whether it is a partnership, vendor relationship, or just being a customer, it’s no longer unusual to get asked how companies treat security.  Risk Management survey’s include questions like, “Has your company been hacked in the last 12 months” and “What was your incident response plan to the breach”.

Where to go to get this stuff?  Where do you keep it?  How to manage?  Many larger companies hire the talent to write it.  Alternately, resources exist that can help with what is needed to cover.  Here are a couple of resources:

I have used all three in my career with success.  Managing these documents should be no different than other IT policies.  In other words, manage collectively with yearly reviews and periodic changes as the organization matures.

What tools or resources have you used to help write security documentation?  Drop me a link to add to the list!

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Challenging IT “Enablement”

“I don’t want my guys to be technical. That’s your team’s job.”

Imagine if Information Technology pushed “day-to-day support” to the business. Before you shoot this idea down, the concept is already actively being embraced by many smaller technical companies. Go read “A Year Without Pants”, by Scott Berkun, the story of WordPress.com where this idea and other evolutionary collaborative work space ideas has roots.

I call it, “IT Enablement”.  A focus on giving people the tools and trust, with strong oversight and governance from IT.  The alternative is zero trust, which is the popular direction for a majority of risk-adverse IT organizations.  Enablement is a philosophical challenge to today’s status quo and not embraced by many.

As with all disruptive ideas, success is determined through buy in and culture. So, when a strategic directive to eliminate the necessity for a help desk landed, we responded with goals to enable business units with a heightened degree of endpoint control while IT provides just governance and security controls.

Long story short, this direction bombed. I wish to write to talk briefly about what happened and why.

Problem 1.  A Misunderstanding.  As what often happens in leadership meetings, it’s often not what’s said, but what wasn’t.  In the discourse, I realized that my interpretation of what our senior leaders want translated to situations that put IT directly in opposition with our conventional business leaders.  How so?  Read on.

Problem 2.  An Revolution.  As this new direction took flight, did I prepare leaders?  Socialize this direction?  Align to goals or strategy?  Not satisfactorily.  In fact, the culture shift attempted occurred at the send of an email:  Effective immediately, support responsibilities are owned by our end users.  And as you might have guessed, leaders did not embrace.  In fact, we were criticized in town hall and by other leaders.  A series of ouch moments.

Problem 3.   Road map to Transformation.  About this time, IT leaders met and realized the bigger challenges in front of us, based on our misread and failed embrace of technical ownership.  The ‘digital transformation’ was born.  Here is our transformation road map:

Solution 1.  Simplify The Landscape.  From policies, standards, and procedures to technology, software, and networking.

Solution 2.  Monitor & Transparency.  Every single thing in IT should be measurable.  A tool will not just focus on measuring and reporting, but giving our technical support teams access for transparency.

Solution 3.  Education and Consult.  Information Technology should be consulting our business leaders, educating our people, and establishing the knowledge culture.  A baseline of technical skills and measuring the values of providing.

The goal:  To eliminate the help desk (Level 1) by 2020.

This blog took me more than a few weeks to write.  How to talk about a subject like this is not easily done nor written about.  And our journey about this topic consumed 3-4 months.  Upon reflection, it was a difficult time.  However, it was worth the attempt, I learned quite a bit from many leaders with legitimate perspectives, turning this fail into learning moments.

If you have successfully put to rest your IT help desk and embraced Enablement, please write me.  I would love to learn how you did it and challenges faced…

\\ JMM