Smart Parking

Now That's Smart ParkingA friend of mine has just sent me these two pictures. They were taken at their place of work.

One of the reasons that I love working from home is the lack of parking hassle. When I do go into the office there is never enough room to park so I leave early to make sure that I get a space.

Now That's Smart ParkingIf we all drove cars like these, it wouldn’t be quite the same issue.

Here we go again – into problem solving mode

Look like I have been sucked into another problem solving situation, and yet again I am dealing with the frustrations that it brings.

The primary frustration I have is that we end up with big problems because people won’t deal with the little problems. Everyone services their car and includes that in the standard cost of things, yet we so often find ourselves in the situation where people do not service IT systems.

The secondary frustration is that we deal with each of these problem situations in a bespoke way. Each one is unique. This gives us two problems, we struggle to understand what the problem is and at the same time struggle to understand how the team is operating.

How do I deal with frustration? Well for me it does actually make a difference if I put a smile on my face, even if it’s forced. That simple act makes me see things in a different light and help me to focus on the issues.

Would I like to be Certified?

Langstrath

Microsoft have recently announced an Architecture Certification Program(me).

I have always been a bit wary of certification in the IT arena because it always seems to have been focussed on clicking the right buttons rather than on any form of aptitude towards the role. Assessing people’s aptitude can be quite difficult. But in going for a peer review process I think that they have probably hit onto the best way of assessing peoples architecture abilities.

Richard Godfrey has already been through it, and it looks fairly rigorous.

It will be nice to have a development goal to aim for.

Paying the Price for Knowledge

Local Bench

There is a story told of the famous engineer Charles Proteus Steinmetz who was instrumental in the making alternating current usable. It goes like this:

[Steinmetz] had worked on a very complex system [at General Electric] that was broken. No one could fix it no matter how hard the technicians tried. So they got Steinmetz back. He traced the systems and found the malfunctioning part and marked it with a piece of chalk

Charles Steinmetz submitted a bill for $10,000 dollar. The General Electric managers were taken back and asked for an itemized invoice.

He sent back the following invoice:

  • Making chalk mark $1
  • Knowing where to place it $9,999

Those of us who are knowledge workers still live in a world that asks questions just like this one “$10,000 that’s a lot of money – all you did was put a piece of chalk on the side of the machine”.

The value of a document is often viewed by the number of pages that it includes.

The value of a presentation is measured on the number of slides that it includes.

The value in an answer that is provided is regularly derived from the amount of time it took to answer the question. If it doesn’t take long to resolve the answer can’t be of much value.

There is often no immediate value in a knowledge worker having the knowledge before the question is asked, because people want to see you ‘working’.

I have just finished reading The Heart of Success by Rob Parsons and he focuses very clearly on being productive rather than spending lots of hours working. The problem is that actually we don’t know how to measure productivity. And because we don’t know how to measure it, we struggle to know how to reward it. we can measure the hours that people work, but we struggle to measure productivity, especially for knowledge workers. Perhaps it’s about time we started applying technology to answering that question.

Lots of statements and questions today, but not many answer so I’ll leave you with another thought from Charles Proteus Steinmetz:

“No man really becomes a fool until he stops asking questions.”

Final Working Productivity Assessment

Strawberry

Over the last few weeks I have been undertaking a quick semi-scientific assessment of my productivity when I am in the Office and when I am working from home. I’ve only managed to do this across a few days and hence it’s probably not that representative. The results are stark:

  • Home working productivity: 166
  • Office working productivity: 86

For those of you who haven’t read the previous articles, this assessment has been done solely on interactions (phone calls, meetings, IM, email, etc.) with extra weight being given to the times when I have been adding value and repeat business. I am a knowledge worker and these interactions are my work. I often consider them as extra to my work, but that’s just a mental and emotional shift I have never managed to make.

Is this study valid though, do I feel twice as productive at home as I do in the office. In short, no. I do feel more productive at home, but certainly not twice as productive. One of the things that I haven’t done is to rate the quality of the interactions and face-to-face interactions are certainly of a higher value than those through a technology interface (phone, email, etc.). This would certainly increase the value of the productivity gained from office working. But that assumes that the people I need to interact with are also in the office, which is generally not the case.

Having experienced worked from home there is nothing worse than sitting in an open office on a teleconference, especially as I sit next to an open meeting area and the noise can be terrible.

The flip side of the value of face-to-face interaction is the lack of focus that interactions have in the Office. I may interact casually with more people, but these are probably people who are not adding to my productivity.

The noticeable advantage to home working is the ability to undertake out-of-work activities and knowledge expansion activities. Both of these are non-existent for office working

Talking Effectiveness

Sunset (before the rain)I’ve been doing a lot of thinking recently about effectiveness. I’ve also been doing some reading. Some of it I haven’t finished so I’m not yet in a position to comment fully but it follows on from my post on An Approach to To-Do Lists.

Two of the things I have been reading are a set of articles produced by Microsoft on Helping Employees Use technology More Effectively at Microsoft and also a book by Rob Parsons called The Heart of Success (not the best site in the world). Like I say I’m only part way through most of it but the Rob Parsons book really gets to me because it really gets to the heart of what I feel. Let me just reiterate the 7 Law’s that he outlines as a taster:

  • Don’t settle for Being Money Rich – Time Poor
  • Believe that the Job You Do Makes a Difference
  • Play to Your Strengths – find Your Factor X
  • Believe in the Power of Dreams
  • Put Your Family Before Your Career
  • Keep the Common Touch
  • Don’t Settle for Success: Make a Difference – Strive for Significance.

It’s the last one that really gets to me – significance. Is what I do significant. The answer is certainly – the real question is whether I connect with that significance.

Collaboration – Automate or Reevaluate

Celtic Cross

collaborate

  • To work together, especially in a joint intellectual effort.
  • To cooperate treasonably, as with an enemy occupation force in one’s country.

One of the things I have pondered in my many years experience in the collaboration technology arena is whether collaboration should simply automate the ways that humans already collaborate – meetings, conferences, etc. or whether our role is to find a completely new mechanism for working together, especially in a joint intellectual effort.

This afternoon I have watched this video on Microsoft’s Office Communicator. The Office Communicator technology seems to be another piece of technology aimed at extending the reach and improving the experience of our normal communications. It’s about video conferencing for people who are too lazy to walk to the next office; and enables people to use the phone without putting their mouse down (only kidding, I know there is more to it than that ). But it’s not about a radically different mechanism for working together. If you think about white-boarding applications they are only extending the reach of what humans have been doing with a piece of paper (or wood, or slate) for thousands of years. I‘m not saying that this technology hasn’t got value, but it’s not really delivering a new or richer way of working together.

Let’s think about one of the other things that we do in the standard office – meetings. Technology has enabled to extend the reach of meetings massively, especially with teleconferences. But my own view is that teleconferencing systems have been to meetings, what office application have been to the document. They have increased the volume of them to unbearable level and massively reduced their value. We are not working together on these things, we are not collaborating, we are wasting people’s time. I personally dread the phrase “Graham we just need a quick teleconference to chat about issue xyz”. When I here this phrase my heart sinks because I know that I am going to be siting on a call for at least 30 mins, or more normally an hour, adding about as much value as a slug does in my garden. This is where the human predicament is fascinating, because we all know this to be true and yet we all do it, over and over again. In the past, when meetings cost us lots of money to host (travel, hotels, etc.) we made sure that the value was high, we did our homework, we put together an agenda and a plan. We made sure that we completed our actions because we knew that other people were investing in being their.

By making meetings easier and cheaper we have decreased their productivity and hence decreased the value. The worse thing about this being that we are wasting peoples most precious asset – time.

Perhaps there is hope though, a long time ago people had to invest lots of time and effort in producing presentations. They had to think about them weeks in advance so that the material could be reproduced and the slides created. In investing this effort people made sure that the quality was high. Then along came the laptop, the video projector and PowerPoint. Now presentation were cheaper and easier to do the value went into terminal decline. But now there is a ground-swell calling for an increase in the value of presentations characterised by the like of Cliff Atkinson and Beyond Bullets. We are on the same curve with email too, I think, with people like Dave Allen and GTD.

Can we avoid this cycle with collaboration, I don’t know. Perhaps it’s just inbred, it’s something that we humans have to go through.

But here’s the real question. Is automating and extending the reach of the interactions we already undertake really what we want to do.  Is that really all the IT is good for – automation. I’m not sure I know what the other ways we could collaborate are, but I’m sure there are plenty of people out their with good ideas. I do know, though, that collaboration is about work together, especially in a joint intellectual effort and that educators already know that we all learn in different ways. I also know that the vast majority of our collaboration effort is focussed on text based collaboration, on documents and the like. But how does a kinaesthetic learner participate in that type of collaboration, and where does that leave the auditory learners. If each of the collaboration techniques only appeal to one of the learning styles then only a few people in any collaboration are going to truly collaborate.

here’s n example for you. My son Jonathan is dyslexic (don’t you think it’s a bit sick that we use a word that is so bizarrely spelled to describe something that involves difficulties which include an inability to spell) his particular difficulty is with writing and spelling. Yesterday was Parents Evening at school, I dread these occasions, for two reasons. The first, but secondary, reason is that parts of me regress to my own childhood and I sit there in front of these teachers as if I am 12 again. The second, but primary, reason is that I get so frustrated with the way that our society is so stacked towards the ability to write and spell. Every teacher says something like “It’s great to have Jonathan in the class, he is so bright, he answer questions and really contributes, but (and here it comes) I have had to give him this negative mark because I couldn’t read his answers in the exam.” In other words Jonathan is valued by us but not by the education system. This is an extreme example, but we do the same with collaboration technologies. The person who initiates the collaboration gets to choose the collaboration (learning) style whether it is the most appropriate mechanism for the others in the collaboration or not. That is really where I see that technology has a massive role to play – bridging the gap between the collaboration (learning) styles. Draw me a 2D diagram of a building and I can picture it, draw Sue the same thing and it means nothing, give her a written explanation and she can see it. Ask Jonathan to write an explanation of something and you won’t be able to read it, ask him to do a drawing or even carve it in wood and you will get something very different. Surely we can do something.

Why don’t we hear anything about learning styles in business? Because we don’t regard collaboration as learning?

As a last remark, IT will have truly achieved something when at every level in education we overcome peoples learning difficulties and enable assessment on the basis of peoples knowledge whatever their learning style; rather than assessing them on their ability to draw lines and circles in a way that a teacher understands as words.