The 7 Personas of the Office Move – Which one are you? Which one am I?

I’ve seen more office moves than I care to count. They happen regularly in most organisations and ought to be quite straightforward, but they aren’t. All of those pesky people and their personalities get in the way. I’ve met a number of these personalities down the years and thinking they can be arranged into about 7 different personas:

1. Stephen Simple

Stephen is the basis of all office move plans. He is the person who has a few things on his desk that can be moved in a single go. He sometimes has a single drawer pedestal of other things that need to be moved, but sometimes he doesn;t even need to do that. Moving Stephen just requires the pedestal and the few items on his desk to be moved from one desk to the other.

On the day of Stephen’s move he moves in a few minutes with the minimum of fuss. Just tell him when and where and it will be done, most of the time he will move himself.

2. Cathy Clutter

Cathy’s desk is a wonderful assortment of personal trinkets, photos of family members and pets, internal process guides, corporate and cartoon mugs, tubs of pens, and management or technical books. Each of these items look to the uninformed randomly placed, but each one has its place and each one has its uses. Once placed each object will remain in that place, objects are never discarded.

The desk pedestal that Cathy uses is full of even more of the wonderful assortment. There will be more wonderful assortment under the desk, on top of the pedestal and on any flat surface that Cathy can claim as her own.

Moving Cathy is best left to Cathy. There’s no point in trying to move her, she’ll need to place everything in its place, even if you think it’s in the right place it won’t be.

Starting the move is a significant event for Cathy, she’ll need plenty of notice to prepare. Preparation will not involve moving anything, preparation is a state of mind. Once she’s started the move, she will complete it, but it will take a while, her challenge is starting.

3. Keith Cupboards

Keith’s desk is a tidy place without too much clutter, but start planning an office move and Keith will feature highly on your list of issues to be resolved. He may look a bit like Stephen Simple above the desk, but he is nothing like Simple away from the desk. As you look around the open office and ponder the ownership of various cupboards distributed around the answer will become clear once you engage with Keith.

There is no doubt in Keith’s mind that everything that is in a cupboard is still required. It’s all there for a reason and Keith needs to be able to get access to it at all times. He might not need regular access, but he needs all of it, in the office and not in long-term storage.

Planning Keith’s move will be a logistical challenge. All of the cupboards will need to move and all of the cupboards are full. Keith is unlikely to be prepared to move anything between cupboards so the whole thing is going to have to move, that may be easier said than done. Moving Keith’s desk is a relatively straightforward thing, moving Keith is significantly more complicated. Moving Keith may even involve a structural engineer.

There’s little point in discussing a reduction in cupboard space with Keith, if anything he wants more. Any suggestion of reduced capacity will make him intransigent, the skill is to understand what’s in it for Keith, but don’t ever trade more cupboard space for the move.

4. William Whiteboards

Similar to Keith, William’s desk is relatively clean and straightforward to move. William has a different challenge; William will only move where he has the required whiteboard space, furthermore, he would prefer to move with his whiteboards.

William’s whiteboards are a work of art with numerous diagrams, columns of writing, arrows, boxes and colour. William’s whiteboards have become an extension to his mind and any separation from them would cause significant psychological impact.

The reliance upon whiteboards will significantly restrict the locations where you can place William. the need for a wall to support the whiteboards will mandate that he is at the edge of any room. Please do not expect to reduce the size of his whiteboard or try to fool him into using an inferior whiteboard, this will have a significant impact upon his well-being. He will not “just get over it”.

5. Penny Precise

Penny is happy to move, but she wants to know what the move will entail. Will she be closer to, or further away from a window? Will she have a view out of the window? Will she still be next to her colleagues? Will she be closer to or further away from the water filter machine? Will she be sat next to a corridor? What distance will she be from the toilets? Will it be lighter or darker than her current location? How about heat? Or draughts? Or air conditioning?

On the day of the move what time will she be moving? Will she be moving her pedestal, or will someone else? Will she be taking her fan with her? Who will be moving the phone? Will she be moving her laptop? Who else will be moving at the same time as her? What should she do if she isn’t available on the day of the move? What’s the name of the person doing the move? Will she be moving her own chair or using the one that’s already there?

She’ll have even more questions on the actual day of the move.

Penny can be exhausting, each question is valid, many of the answers are unknown, others have obvious answers. The answer that you want to give to many of the questions is another question: “why do you care?” But Penny does care, that’s why she is asking. She doesn’t necessarily care about the answers, she cares about the questions.

6. Lesley Leaver

Lesley’s desk is a bit cluttered, but nothing like as bad as Cathy’s, she’s also got some items in various cupboards around the place. The truth is Lesley has no idea what she’s got and that’s fine for Lesley. When it’s time to move she’ll move the things that she thinks she wants and leave the rest behind.

The people doing the office move will then be left with a dilemma, do they assume that everything that has been left can go in a skip, or do they try to find the owner so that it can be returned to them? This isn’t as easy a decision as it sound, but Lesley isn’t worried about it, she’s already moved on.

As I write this there is a cupboard beside me of which one whole shelf has become orphaned from its owner. I think that it used to belong to someone who left the company over 3 years ago. There are all sorts of things in there including digital media and a laptop, but numerous attempts to dispose of these items have resulted in failure.

The Leavers create a snowball effect during most office moves. The person who moves into the place where a Leaver has been moves the left items onto another desk where other left items have already been deposited. The person moving into that desk then has the joy of moving two lots of left items onto a third desk, and on it goes until eventually a whole desk is full of the leavings of others.

Lesley is easy to move, dealing with the aftermath of her move can take weeks.

7. Ian Island

In every office move there is always an Ian, he has been sat at the same desk since he joined the company in 1982. Somehow every office move happens around him, they never require him to move. Ian is a mystery, it’s not clear what the impact on him would be, if he did have to move, because it’s never happened. No one knows whether he likes it where he sits, no one bothers asking because he has been their so long.

Ian sits amongst the world that is changing around him oblivious to the experience that others are having. Thankfully Ian can be pretty much ignored during an office move.

As I’ve sat amongst an office move over the last few weeks I think I’ve witnessed each of these personas at play, but have I missed any?

Do you identify as one of these? Do you have any recommendations on how to handle the various personas?

I’m reading… “Hit Refresh” by Satya Nadella

How do you bring significant change to an organisation? Particularly a large, multi-national organisation?

Where do you start once you’ve decided what it is that you want to change? How do you make change that is sustainable?

This is no ordinary organisation either, this is Microsoft, an organisation that has some huge fans, but also massive detractors. It’s an organisation that has made some very public missteps and become regarded as arrogant, but is also one of the most valuable organisations in the world.

How do you revive a giant?

Microsoft has, for a long time, had a reputation for being an organisation with an interesting way of working. This is something that Nadella refers to early on in the book by using a cartoon from Bonkers World that depicts Microsoft’s organisation structure as being one of a set of warring factions:

While it’s a cartoon, it has meaning because it is based in a truth. Moving away from this situation required a significant change of culture and to use Satya’s words for Microsoft to find its soul.

This book is partly an autobiographical telling of how Nadella got to be Microsoft CEO, it’s partly an outline vision for the future of Microsoft and partly a discussion on some of the opportunities and challenges currently facing the wider technology industry.

I found the autobiographical parts the most interesting, but I like biography. These sections give some insights into how someone born in Hyderabad becomes the CEO of an organisation that has had a dramatic impact on the world that we know. There are part of these sections that are very personal, particularly when he is talking about his son Zain who suffered in-utero asphyxiation during his birth which caused severe brain damage and left him with cerebral palsy. This isn’t one of those management books where someone tells you how brilliant they, there’s more humility than that.

Nadella describes the role of CEO as “curator of culture” and it’s clearly culture that he regards as the primary change required. Speaking as someone who works in the technology industry, Microsoft is an organisation that divides opinion, and it takes people a long time to change an opinion. Nadella took over as Microsoft CEO in 2014, since then Microsoft has sought to show a very different culture, embracing many things that previously would have been regarded as red-lines. Two words that Nadella uses several times in the book are listen and empathy neither of them words you would have associated with the Microsoft of the Steve Ballmer era.

The CEO is the curator of an organization’s culture. Anything is possible for a company when its culture is about listening, learning, and harnessing individual passions and talents to the company’s mission. Creating that kind of culture is my chief job as CEO.

The culture change I wanted was centered on exercising a growth mind-set every day in three distinct ways. First, at the core of our business must be the curiosity and desire to meet a customer’s unarticulated and unmet needs with great technology. This was not abstract: We all get to practice each day. When we talk to customers, we need to listen. We need to be insatiable in our desire to learn from the outside and bring that learning into Microsoft.

Still, many responses to the recently announced purchase of GitHub reflected suspicions of the arrogant Microsoft. I suppose it just goes to show that 4 years isn’t a very long time in people’s memories.

The third section, on some of the opportunities and challenges facing the technology sector are also interesting, but for a different reason.  These sections aren’t as insightful into Nadella’s thinking on a particular subject, but feel more like the thinking of the broader Microsoft organisation. There wasn’t, for me, any particular revelation here.

Summarising: Nadella is an interesting character with an interesting background. He seems to me to be taking Microsoft in the right direction, but it will be interesting to see where he gets put when the history of the current age is written.

Three Days to Become Normal – A Story About Shorts

It’s been a remarkable year for weather here in the UK. We are currently experiencing something that other nations regard as normal. Outside it is sunny, it has been sunny for weeks, and the weather forecast says that it is going to be sunny for the foreseeable future.

We obsess about the weather here because it is different every hour, or part of an hour. It’s extremely rare for it to be so stable for so long. We are normally inappropriately dressed for at least part of every day but regard that as the consequence of living somewhere with such fickle weather.

It’s been sunny, and hot, for so long now that it seems daft to go into an office, where there is no air conditioning, dressed in trousers and a long-sleeve shirt. My normal attire is long trousers and long-sleeve shirt; but our corporate policy on clothing does include “smart” shorts in our definition of “business casual”.

(“Business casual” is a term that everyone hates because it include such a diverse set of clothing as to be meaningless. What it really means for most people is: “dress in a way that doesn’t get you noticed”.)

I decided, on Monday, that it was time to move over to shorts. I’m wise enough to know that I would get some reaction to this, but decided to do it anyway. There were a number of reactions on the first day, a few looks and some comments about the knobbliness of my knees.

On Tuesday the shorts were, again, my chosen attire. This time there were very few looks and only one comment, from someone who hadn’t been in on the Monday.

Today is Wednesday and no one has said anything about the shorts.

It took less than three days for the shorts to become normal.

We talk about change being difficult, and often it is, but sometimes it only takes three days for the change to become normal.

UPDATE: On day four the number of people wearing shorts has increased dramatically, perhaps that’s because people are happier being a follower.

Unintended Consequences and Perverse Outcomes

There’s a management saying:

“If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”

It’s often attributed to Peter Drucker, but according to the Drucker Institute, he never said it. Sounds sensible though?

Another management saying is:

“You’ll get what you measure.”

Which sounds axiomatic, I think?

Eliyahu M. Goldratt said:

“Tell me how you measure me, and I will tell you how I will behave”

Measurement and behaviour are closely linked, but that’s not always in a good way.

We are surrounded by situations where measurements and targets result in illogical behaviour, unintended consequences and perverse outcomes.

Give manufacturers an environmental test to pass and they will pass it, but may do so by changing the way the product works in the test conditions.

Give hospital administrators a target for certain diseases and that target will be met, but also, the care of other diseases will decrease.

Give teachers a set of measures that need to be met and tohse measures will be met, but teaching as a whole will be narrowed.

Give financial advisors a bonus for selling certain products and they will sell that product, even if it’s not appropriate for the person buying it.

Give policymakers a target to build houses and they will build houses, wherever they can, even if they aren’t needed where they are built.

Implement a policy of closely monitoring people’s working hours and they will work the hours that they are expected to work, but they won’t work any more than those hours.

Give policymakers a target for reducing the amount of household waste that goes to landfill and restrictions on access to landfill will meet the target, but also, the amount of flytipping will increase.

The list goes on and there are many specific examples in the Wikipedia article on unintended consequences. My favourite is this one:

The British government, concerned about the number of venomous cobra snakes in Delhi, offered a bounty for every dead cobra. This was a successful strategy as large numbers of snakes were killed for the reward.

Eventually, enterprising people began breeding cobras for the income. When the government became aware of this, they scrapped the reward program, causing the cobra breeders to set the now-worthless snakes free.

As a result, the wild cobra population further increased. The apparent solution for the problem made the situation even worse, becoming known as the Cobra effect.

We have to be very careful when we are setting a target that the reverse of that target is desirable. Sometimes that’s why the counter-intuitive response is the most effective. Sometimes not measuring something is the best approach.

Related: I’m Reading: “Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy” by Cathy O’Neil

DaaS or DaaS, or even DaaS?

We love acronyms in IT, see, we even define ourselves by one.

Sometimes we try to be cute with them and make words out of them: RADIUS – Remote Authentication Dial-In User Service.

Sometimes we create acronyms that enter the popular lexicon as words without people realising that they are acronyms:

  • LAN –  Local area network
  • RAM – Random Access Memory

Sometimes we get all wrapped up using the same acronym for multiple meanings.

In recent weeks I’ve found myself involved in multiple conversations about DaaS, which is pronounced “DAS”, generally with a hard-“A” (like the detergent), but sometimes with a kind of confused stutter as people try to pronounce both “A”s.

(This is one of those acronyms where saying the letters – D-a-a-S – is nearly as long as saying the meanings, and neither is very comfortable to say.)

Anyway, getting back to the point, DaaS, what does it mean? Well, it depends. It has a different meaning in different contexts, which, personally I find infuriating, especially as a couple of the contexts are quite similar.

DaaS #1 – Desktop-as-a-Service

I think that this one can claim to have been around the longest. It refers to the provision of virtual desktops as a pay-per-use service.

Lots of organisations use virtual desktop service, what makes this as-a-Service is that it’s delivered by a cloud infrastructure. AWS, Microsoft and VMware all have Desktop-as-a-Service offerings which you can purchase and use without the need for any internal capabilities.

DaaS #2 – Device-as-a-Service

Really, yes, “Device-as-a-Service” is different to “Desktop-as-a-Service”.

Device-as-a-Service has absolutely nothing to do with virtual desktops, it’s all about physical devices. If you’ve had a mobile phone contract which included the phone hardware then you’ve used something similar to Device-as-a-Service, you paid a monthly fee for the device in the expectation of certain services. Managing a large estate of devices is a complicated thing to do and adds little value to most organisations. Creating an arrangement with a third party to lease devices and let them manage the inventory gives them the problem, but also, potentially, allows your organisation more flexibility.

DaaS #3 – Data-as-a-Service

Once upon a time Microsoft produced an interactive encyclopedia application called Encarta, it shipped on a set of CDs and later DVDs. To get access to the data you needed to buy and use the application, the two were bundled together. The internet changed all of that and Encarta became obsolete in 2009.

The internet as a data source also made obsolete the need for applications to own the embedded data.  Lots of applications now use data that comes from other sources, sometimes that data is given away, sometimes it’s provided on an as-a-Service basis where people pay to use it. In some industries bureau have been set up to provide this data to the people willing to pay for it, one example of this is the credit check agencies who take the various sources of data about our financial situation, analyse it, and provide the results back to the financial institutions.

So there you have it, the same four letters, three different meanings.

I suppose that I ought to go now and use my DaaS provided equipment to access a DaaS so that I can use my application that gets its data from a DaaS source.

We aren’t very good at balancing – The Tyranny of Fast, Good or Cheap.

In project management there’s a model known as the triple constraint or the iron triangle it says that the quality of something that you delivery is governed by a balancing of the scope, cost and schedule. If you want it fast then it will cost you more, or you need to reduce the scope that can delivered.

The same principle is summarised in an old axiom:

Fast, Cheap, and Good…pick two.

The big idea is that you need to balance out what you want because you can’t have it all.

In my experience, though, we aren’t very good at this balancing, we tend to be quite simple creatures and only have the ability to focus on one objective, this leads to tyranny by the one we choose over the other two. Most commonly it’s a tyranny of cost but increasingly increasingly I’m seeing a tyranny of schedule.

There is often little discussion about which one is the chosen one, it’s normally chosen subconsciously by the organisational culture or the commissioning part of the organisation. If the project is Finance driven then cost is chosen, if the project is needed by the production part of the business then the schedule is sometime chosen. Sometimes it’s clear that schedule has to be the chosen one, because something is required for a set date, but that’s not the norm.

As we live under the tyranny of one of these triple constraints we live in the expectation that the other two will come dancing along behind to join the party even though they are uninvited guests. We hope that cost and scope will be good enough as the schedule consumes our attention. We hope that the schedule and scope will fit as we focus in on the costs. Every now and then we turn around and create a new baseline making the triumvirate fit together, in theory, whilst continuing to give our attention to the chosen one. This process normally results in scope handing over pieces of its land to assuage the chosen one.

So how do we resolve this problem? Do we just need to pick a different constraint, hand the power over to a different tyrant and hope that they are better leaders? I’m not sure that any are better than the others, I’ve seen projects run with each as the chosen one and each of them miss out the other two, none of the constraints are very good collaborators. No, I think that the answer is to recognise that which ever gets chosen will become a tyrant, and that the way to deal with a tyrant is to limit their territory.  That’s one of the fundamental differences between Agile and Waterfall project approaches. In Agile the tyrants influence is limited by the sprint, once a sprint is finished you can hand the priority over to one of the other members of the triumvirate. The smaller chunks limit the grip of the chosen one. Having said that I’ve seen many Agile projects set up with the schedule as the tyrant. A sprint is, after all, defined as a unit of time within the schedule.


Taking the Shortcut – It’s a Human Thing

There’s a path near to where I work, which is on the route to the local train station and local supermarket. There is a tarmac path which few people use, there’s also a short-cut path which saves the walker less than a few metres which everyone uses (unless it’s the winter when the shortcut gets muddy).

This situation is repeated in communities around the world.

I recently saw this picture of a pathway designed by someone who was clearly trying to create an aesthetic:

How long do you think it will be before the aesthetic will include lines between each of the bends? 🙂

It’s human to shortcut, we are fundamentally lazy so will do anything to optimise our experiences to take the shortest possible route. Yet, we continue to build systems and services in the expectation that people will go out of their way to do what we want them to do.

I work with a group of people whose job is to optimise processes, the people who oversee these processes are regularly surprised when people do the “bare minimum” to move the process from one phase into another phase. The accusation is that “They’re just ticking boxes.” The behaviour exhibited operators of these processes is completely understandable, why would anyone go around the wiggly lines when a straight-line shortcut is available? Building systems that expect people to behave in any other way is folly.

Sometimes the shortcuts are outright dangerous and in these situations we need to be explicit about the reason for the long-route, but we should expect people, in general, to prefer the shortcut. Yet, everywhere you look there are examples of systems and processes that expect people to behave in a way that isn’t natural.

Knowing that people are lazy and will take shortcuts doesn’t have to be a problem, quite often it’s an opportunity. The opportunity for process and system designers is to make them work in a way that doesn’t require shortcuts, or to provide alternatives that are better than the current shortcuts. If you can’t get people to use safe passwords then don’t put more and more barriers in people’s way, get rid of the passwords and find another way of authenticating people. If people only fill in the three mandatory pieces of information on your form ask yourself why the other questions are there and use the opportunity to get rid of them. If people don’t use the tools you buy for them to get the job done and use free ones instead, take the opportunity to move over to the free ones.

“Yeah, I am lazy. There’s no doubt about that.”

Usain Bolt