Problems in Communication Between Popular IT Frameworks?

I been lately working in IT Service Management (ITSM) and Enterprise Service Management (ESM) field. I also been working with change and learning. I decided to write this post as an opener to series of posts about ESM.

I been introduced to multiple different IT frameworks and I had hard time patching them together exactly for a long period of time. TOGAF, PRINCE2, ITIL, COBIT and many others make some sense from their perspectives, but they all failed to capture the whole picture. What I will describe next does not either capture the whole picture, but a little bigger part of it.

I recently attended a course by Ben Kalland who I should contribute the picture below for helping me gain better understanding of four key aspects of IT and how they are interconnect to each other. I’m now trying to relay this information with some of my own additions to you.

Four Points of View

Key aspect of TOGAF is in planning and gaining a whole picture of organization, its parts and their interactions. Key interests are in what should be planned (what the business wants) and how those plans are taken into action (execution).

Key aspect of PRINCE2 is in implementation and different tasks you should do and remember when implementing something. Key interests are in what are the limitations (boundaries of what we can do) and how they will change and fit in service production.

Key aspect of ITIL is in running the operational organization and within those processes. Some people might say ITIL is a lifecycle model and I would agree on this part. However I would also say that transition and operation are its most used parts and with many other parts its point of view is from service production even in earlier lifecycle. Key interests are in what’s coming to service production and what are important for customers and business.

Key aspect of COBIT is in the control and auditing. COBIT has generalized business needs based on a research to around 20 generic needs like: increase profitability. Key interests are related to what the business needs and what this will mean for IT. Which processes IT should do and what kind of plans for future architecture, capabilities and software you need.

Featured image

Now What?

So what can you do with this information? First of all it gives perspective on how different bodies are measured or what is usually their source of inspiration. Also it gives perspective on how people with understanding on a specific framework think and what kind of language, sense making and examples you might want to use. More than that it gives you possibility to have meaningful discussions and ask the right questions.

In practice:

  • Green could represent the way CIO thinks: What are your business needs, what kind of processes we need to work on and what it will mean for future architecture?
  • Gray could represent Enterprise Architects and how they think: What is the business going to do in the future and how it will affect our roadmaps and architecture plans. These roadmaps need to be put in action.
  • Blue could represent PMO and how they think: What are limits in where we can work, can we build this on SPARC-architecture? What will we transfer as finished or updated services to service production.
  • Orange could represent IT service production and how they think: What are the processes we need to run operations the way customers want us to? What processes should we focus on and what new services and changes are coming to service production?

I find many of the frameworks I have studied include useful information. They are all toolkits and you should pick what tools you find useful from them. On some cases you might only want to take ideas and ask what’s the agile way or lean way of doing it. Point I’m trying to make is taking them as they come is an error. Benefit of having a common language and understand the language some one else is speaking is also one of the key benefits from all of the “best practice” frameworks.

The way these frameworks are implemented and seen is also a big problem. I find that many people understand processes and parts from the frameworks and perhaps the technical implementation of them with tools. At the same time very few understand learning, change management and leadership required to change things in organizations in a sustainable way. How to create a working process? I think this is the reason to many failed implementation of programs and projects taking inspiration from one of the frameworks.

Lean, Systems Thinking, Complexity Thinking are all aspects you can look at the whole or its parts. That’s something I might write at a later date.

I hope this gave a small clarification on how people with skills on specific framework might think.

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What is wrong with Finland and how to fix it – a case example

We are living interesting times here in Finland. On one hand Finland is one of the best places in the world. We have high living standards, good public services, low income differences between social groups and a peaceful society in general. On the other hand we have lost much of the industry over the last 10-15 years that has allowed us to build this wonderful society. Combine this with the general downfall of the global economy and the Russian sanctions and the end result is that we are facing some very tough questions about how to finance our current way of living or to choose which parts of our current systems should we “trim” to cut expenses.

I’m very glad that we have finally found the courage to face some of these issues and are having a political discussion about how to make these adjustments. That’s the positive side. The negative side is that it seems the way are looking for solutions is very traditional and not innovative at all.

To me, as a casual newspaper reader, it seems that the discussion is revolving around two questions

  1. How to finance the current services in new ways?
  2. Can the level of service be reduced with acceptable consequence to our society?

In many cases these questions are probably good ones, but I would really like to see more innovation driven questions like:

  1. In what other ways can we provide the same “function” as the current service?
  2. How can we reduce costs while at same time raising the level of service?
  3. What underused resources can we discover to provide the services?
  4. To what other functions/services can we integrate the service into?
  5. How can we change the systems in such a way that the service is no longer needed?

These innovation driven questions will also lead to lower costs and create innovations we can also possibly use as exports. This is a much better end result then can come from the cost cutting questions, where the best outcome is lower costs, and the much more likely outcome is just transferring costs to another part of our society through local optimization.

There is much talk about the innovation society. Our current economic situation is a great opportunity to turn that talk into actions if we have the courage to shift our perspective and look for untraditional solutions. Innovation starts with the ability to think AND act differently.  Like Albert Einstein famously said:

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”

A case example – monitoring environmental permits

A good case example is the issue of how to finance effective monitoring of environmental permits. A few troubling environmental incidents have brought attention to fact that due to budget cuts the officials are unable to effectively monitor companies. The proposed solution to this problem is that companies should pay the government to monitor the permits. I really dislike this “solution” because of several reasons:

  1. The companies are already paying taxes and adding other payments will make Finland a less appealing investment place when compared to other countries
  2. It is a “solution” that does not encourage any innovation around the issue.
  3. It encourages not improving the current solution because the costs will be transferred to third parties

Although I’ll admit I’m definitely no expert on the topic, I think we should be able to better. We should try to find solutions that cut costs AND improve the service, NOT just find another party to pay the bill. If the task sounds too daunting perhaps we can find solace in the fact there are good innovation tools, like TRIZ, to help us in this endeavor.

Here’s a few ideas I came up after thinking about the issue over a cup of coffee using some TRIZ tools:

  • Make the high level executives personally responsible (the fines come from their own pocket) for the environmental issues – Brazil has done this successfully in the finance industry
  • Make all the audit and reporting publicly available. Engage volunteers and environmental groups in auditing the data
  • Whistle blower programs with potentially high rewards for employees who turn in their employer. This has been done for IT licenses for example
  • Create quality circles between companies – this has led to better quality for car supply chains
  • Make an cluster collectively responsible for each other’s environmental issues
  • Offer tax benefits to companies with an excellent record if they are willing to mentor other companies
  • Use peer review between companies as an auditing system
  • Open monitoring for competition, ie it can be done by certified companies – analogous to book keeping
  • Make the next generation corporate leaders environmentally responsible by incorporating the topic into university and high school training in an effective way
  • Help companies design their processes in such an way that monitoring controls can be embedded into the actual work, instead of being an separate activity
  • Is it possible to substitute environmental permit monitoring by monitoring other available data that correlates strong with environmental issues (like safety and continuous improvement) and monitor them instead
  • Imitate the US tax system where audits are random, and the consequence severe if you get caught
  • Sell consulting to companies, not monitoring
  • Make the audits Lean, ie trim every part that does not create real value
  • Partially automate the data collection and monitoring activities and utilize big data analytics
  • R&D support for innovative ways to reduce environmental risks
  • High fines for offenders to cover monitoring costs. Those who do it by the book do not have to pay

Many of these ideas are just about improving monitoring, which probably isn’t even the right question. Most companies probably don’t set out to intentionally damage the environment. Rather it is a consequence of a lot of mistakes and carelessness. If the government could help companies fix these problems by helping them to implement an effective and empowering continuous improvement method like Toyota Kata  it would be truly a win-win scenario. Finland would benefit from better environmental responsibility and companies from higher productivity from improvements and more engaged employees. In this scenario the companies wouldn’t mind paying some extra fees.

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Toyota Kata – Workshop at ITSM.fi Top 10 Conference

Last friday I held a Toyota Kata – workshop at the ITSM.fi Top 10 conference with the help of my colleague and friend Tomi Lamminsalo. The conference was a great experience with good presentations and a very active and knowledgeable audience. I really enjoyed myself and learned some new interesting things in the process. My one take a way was the ISM – method.

I was a bit worried about how active people would be in the morning workshop because of the previous nights party. Luckily my worries proved to be unfounded and the workshop participants were very active and we had a very interactive session. It was very nice to observe how open to new ideas everyone was even though some of the participants had a lot experience in quite different  ways of working.

The slides can be found at SlideShare:

The agenda for the presentation was:

  • What is a learning organization
  • What is Toyota Kata
  • Theory and examples of Improvement Kata
  • Improvement Kata exercise
  • Theory of Coaching Kata
  • Coaching Kata exercise
  • Introduction to A3-templates
  • A3-templates and organizational learning
  • Summary

This is pretty much my regular agenda with the exception of adding the short “What is a learning organization” – module to the beginning. This was a experiment in which I tried to give the audience a clear context for Toyota Kata and get them curious. I worked much better than I had even hoped and I will definitely include this module in the future as well.

The gist of the module was to introduce the capabilities that set the top organization apart from other according to Steven Spear’s research (I wrote on the topic previously) and reflect how Toyota Kata fits into that picture.

Learning organizationd and Toyota Kata

The feedback we got from the audience was astonishingly positive. I think the only constructive criticism  we got was from that our slides were in English even though the presentation was in Finnish.  Some quotes from the feedback we got (translated from Finnish):

A very interesting presentation with well thought out exercises.

The best take a way in the conference! Thank you!

A very interesting presentation and which gave me good ideas. I will definitely try to implement it at  our organization.

An interesting and down to earth approach. I will try in practice without a doubt.

Thank you for a great presentation. I can’t think of anything to complain about.  PS. Keep up the good work.

If any participants from the workshop are reading this post (or anyone else who wants to learn more about Toyota Kata) I strongly recommend this video by Mike Rother:

Posted in A3 - method (Toyota Kata), Lean, Learning | Leave a comment

A Concept Design Idea for a University Student Dashboard

Recently I have taken a small detour at work back into service design from my current work. You can read more about the circumstances in this blog post. I have been working with Juha Martikainen and together we have designed one possible concept for the future Aalto student portal.  I have enjoyed the experience very much, and Juha has been a pleasure to work with.

We have been working in a quite limited time box. We spent about 3 hours coming up with our initial concept design and Juha spend a few hours refining it into a more presentable form (I will post pictures of both). I think this type of limited time approach works well because the field in question is very familiar to us, otherwise more time would have been needed.

Before I can go into our concept design I have to give you a little bit of background information to set the stage…

The Context

This is very simplified representation of the context in which we designed our concept for the “Aalto personal gateway” service. It will hopefully give you enough understanding about the related systems to help you understand our solution.

APG-context

OTM

“OTM” is the working name for the next generation student registration and student credit system. It will allow students to registrar to be preset for the semester plan their studies and register for courses at the beginning of the semester. It is also the system where the teachers will submit the credits and grades the students get from successfully completing a course.

AVLE

AVLE stands for Aalto virtual learning environment. It is the place where students do most of the day to day online learning activities like:

  • Download reading material for courses
  • Do online activities like complete course questioners
  • Submit personal or team assignments
  • Read news items related to course like “There is a new assignment for course X”

Other Tools

There are of course plenty of other online tools that are used to facilitate and support learning like email, calendar and collaboration tools (like wiki’s and Office 365).   It is not important to single them out. We just need to understand that they exist, and there is a quite a few of them.

APG – Student Dashboard

APG stands for Aalto personal gateway.  It will hopefully offer students:

  1. A personalized and unified view into all the important study related news  and calendar events
  2. Act as gateway and offer links to all the other study related systems
  3. Offer shortcuts to my currently active courses
  4. Motivate students by offering visualizations of a few key  measurements related to their personal study progress
  5. Offer a simple and pleasant user experience

Our Concept

Now that we understand the context it is time to share our initial concept design. After a few hours of working at the whiteboard and documenting our work with PowerPoint (hey, what else it is the Swiss army knife of modern work;)  our idea looked like this:

APG-concept

Although picture is worth a thousand words, I will never the less briefly explain the most important elements of the user interface. Hopefully this will clarify their purpose and what information they will represent to the user.

Event calendar

This element will visualize all the important study related events for each individual student. It has two sub elements: 1) Todays events, 2) Upcoming events.

The following list illustrates what type of events will be shown in this interface element:

  • Registration deadline for semester
  • Registration deadline for the course in my study plan
  • Upcoming exams
  • Upcoming deadlines on my courses (for example exercise DL)
  • Majors school events

News feed

This user interface component offers students a personalized study related news feed that is collected from the “AVLE” and “OTM” systems.

  • News feed from OTM
    • Registered successfully to semester
    • Registered successfully to course
    • New credits from course X registered
  •  News feed from AVLE
    • New material/deadline/assignment in course X
    • You completed assignment X with score 7/10
    • Tomorrows lecture is canceled/change of venue

Study progress meter

The purpose of this component is to motivate the student by visualizing their progress by three key measures. The visualization will compare their results with the average of other students and the university “targets”.  This elements represents our initial ideas for utilizing gamification for student motivation.

  • Activity in last 30 days
    • “Speed meter” type of visualization of activity in last 30 days
    • Activity sources
      • What I have done in AVLE (completed assignment, commenting on page, etc)
      • What I have done in OTM (course registration, new credit points for completed course, updated study plan)
      • Speed meter result is own activity/general activity scaled to 0-100
  • Study progress this year
    • How many study points do I have this year
    • How many study points is the average this year
    • How many study points is the target
  • Overall study progress
    • What percentage of my studies have I completed
    • What is the average completion in the same time
    • What is the target

My course list

This element offers a list of links to the courses that I have registered to. Each course  in the list has a link to:

  • The OTM page for the course
  • The AVLE page for the course
  • Optional other link? – teacher preference  is OTM

Links (personal and general tools)

This component consists of two sub elements:

  1. “My links” – List of my personal links (can be added/modified/removed from this user interface). Examples:
    1. Facebook
    2. Student guild X
    3. Hobby link Y
  2. “General links” – links to the tools that the university offers the students.
    1. Top tools
      • Email and calendar
      • Course registration
      • Course work
      • Collaboration tools
      • Chat

      Other tools… (expands to cover other tools)

Although this pretty well documents our ideas Juha spent a few hours with Photoshop to make our design a bit more presentable and came up with this image:

apg-juha

Additional Ideas

I discussed the concept design with my wife Lotta and she had an interesting contribution. She had recently read that although gamification techniques in general work quite well there is a risk in comparing peoples results to the average result. It can cause “regression to the mean” for the top performers. I guess this is based on unconscious thinking like “Oh, I am doing a lot better than the average so I can take it a bit easier”. Fortunately Lotta also had a solution. By using a more advanced gamification ideas like badges for excellent results we can also motivate the top performers. This “badges for excellence in different areas” thinking offers significant potential for the student portal in other areas as well, but I won’t go further into the topic in this blog post.

Juha also had an excellent idea about integration the presence information of the university IM-system into the student portal, but we agreed to keep it out of the initial design in order to keep it simple.

Please give us feedback and share your ideas about how to design a good student dashboard and remember that this is just an initial concept design for one possible solution.

Posted in Services | 5 Comments

Risk Management Tool: Pre-mortem

I’m going to write about risk management and more specifically about intervention tool called pre-mortem.

Short Introduction of Theory

Pre-morten, like the name hints, is a tool that you use to write a short story about why the project failed, but you do it before. The style is quite frankly the same that most of the time you spend on analysing why some things went wrong. The emphasis is on story telling. This will allow people reading it, make up the holes and wake up to the reality that something needs to be done.

This leads me to the use cases where you should use this:

  • Your not getting your voice through for one reason or another, a risk is being talked down in the project board or by project owner.
  • You as a project manager are worried that something really bad is about to happen, but it’s something vague. You can clear your mind and do the bullet before this.

It’s quite powerful so use it wisely and think of this as a tool that’s used once-per-project for hardest risks or times the project faces.

RIP1

Example

“The project had great chances of being succesful project and the project team was glowing with energy in the start. However something weird happened, I’m not sure which order, but all contributed a little bit to failure of this project and it started to sink in a spiral of death:

  • Project owner was not really interested when the project went well and this lead to situation that he/she wasn’t able to really make distinction when it was going bad. We all wanted well, but we didn’t have the time.
  • This leads to second issue, the project portfolio was piling up and we accepted more than we could finish, project being a lower priority project lead to situation where most of the project managers time was spent on trying to get scraps of work done by the team here and there. The team was doing exactly like the organization wanted, prioritize the work. However visibility to the whole amount was lost and even though organization did want also this project to finish on time, it was unable to see what was happening.
  • Project was subject of reactive decision making of all dependencies of the project, which lead to re-designing of project many times over, even with excellent JIT-method, it was still too much, combined with the last bullet when only member of the project group who could contribute was the project manager.
  • Finally the nail that killed the project was another more important project that was issued to project manager.
  • Most stakeholders did not share the idea of how the learning should be done (actually how learning happens), thus creating situations where some of the stakeholders were wondering why we are spending so much time on this and the other half thinking why we’re not doing as much as we should and we’re actually sawing our own leg.

What really happened? We wanted to do a project that frees up resources that was not done the way it should have been. Thus the situation afterwards was worse, having to do with less resources.

The End

Now I hope you’re thinking this virtual project and reading this like this all happened in the past, 6 months ago. Talks in the coffee tables are dieing down, but still some people wonder why it failed.

Now consider you got this in an e-mail designated to the whole board of the project when the project was half-way in and you started seeing the first clouds yourself. How would you react as a board member?

john-p-thinking

Posted in Management, Methods and frameworks, Risk Management | Leave a comment

Just in Time

I wrote about resilience some weeks back. This time I’m going to tell about philosophy and how you can manage resilience on change trips like projects.

This technique requires good skill on estimating work amounts and understanding dependencies to pull it off with decent predictability. You see, having good work amount estimating skills and techniques allow you to do anything just in time. Having poor skills means you will always be late.

Just in Time is originally a philosophy developed by Toyota. It means they build something just in time (JIT) to minimize logistical, mineral and warehousing costs.

Just-in-time

How it Works in Practice:

Most projects meet a lot of changes, due to high number of projects, changes and requirements all emerging and happening at the same time.

So instead of building something ready 2-3 weeks early will lead to higher probability of doing waste (something that’s not necessary and nor useful). Needs and requirements might change at the late our and then we get the reaction of “oh my God, this is how I planned it” and having more trouble of changing the idea of, well this is how we will run it now.

Don’t get me wrong, not everything needs to be reactive, but building things just in time allows you to have better view on what actually needs to be built that it will fit the needs better.

So instead of plan in detail and rehearse a workshop or a teaching session 2-3 weeks early, do it ready 2-3 days before you actually need it. Also start with something small and something that’s safe to fail.

I’m sure you notice you hit more on target and do less re-engineering within a project if you start applying this.

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It’s not just about talent and effort – how you work matters a lot

In this day and age there is so much knowledge about how to work effectively in different circumstances that surely there isn’t anything left to talk about. There is Scrum for projects, Lean for just about everything and pommodoro to help us pace our work in a way that is optimal for our brains. So writing about the topic is kind of like beating a dead horse right?

On the other hand being good at something is not about knowledge.  I’m sure there are a lot of people who actually know a lot more about basketball tactics than Michael Jordan, but there is no one who can even come close in making that knowledge come to life in a basketball court.  It takes a lot practice to turn that knowledge into a useful skill (and habit).

I feel that we are in a place right now where there is a lot of information about how work effectively and a growing amount of awareness. Yet we are not applying this new knowledge into practice is widely as we could be. Understanding why this is the case is a very complicated topic.  Instead of trying to write an all clarifying answer (which I can’t do), I will reflect on an example which happened to me recently.

engagingvsboring

A service design example

I was invited to participate in a meeting/workshop to talk about the service concept for a new IT system.  The meeting was very cross functional and all the relevant departments had one or more representatives. As a consequence of this the meeting was quite large (about 15 people).  The meeting started out well with the chairman recapping the purpose and positioning of the new service and we had a very lively (and productive) discussion about the “big picture” and design principles. The participants were very motivated and wanted to contribute.

Soon the discussion started to move more towards the details of the new service concept and we started covering topics like:

  • What high level functionality should it have?
  • Do we understand all the needs of the different user groups?
  • What is our mobile strategy?
  • How configurable does the system need to be to fit all the different preferences of potential users?
  • How do we integrate it into other systems and what information is available from them?

I noticed myself getting a little frustrated for two reasons:

  1. It is very difficult for everyone to contribute in an effective way. Usually a few people take over the discussion and many good ideas are not discussed. The discussion can also very easily get stuck in meaningless details. Without excellent facilitation the energy levels will inevitably go down.
  2. This type of design method will also very easily lead into a service that has “all the bases covert”, which usually means that the important parts (from a user point of view) are hopelessly lost in the jungle if “important” features. This is almost inevitable results of the simple fact that everyone wants to contribute something to the end result and usually this something comes from their functional viewpoint.

A user interface designed by a commitee

I interrupted the meeting with a suggestion about a different working method:

  1. Split up into teams of 2-3 people
  2. Each group has a week to design a wire frame prototype of the service. The prototype should reflect what in the teams opinion are the 3-4 most important elements in the services
  3. Meet up and present all the different prototypes to the group and discuss their strengths and weaknesses.
  4. Design a couple of new prototypes by combining some of the best ideas from the previous rounds
  5. Seek empirical validation for the most promising prototypes

The suggestion got a good reception and we decided to proceed accordingly. “All is well that ends well” – we decided as a group to utilize an effective working method for the situation (at least in my unbiased opinion!)  and hopefully that will be reflected on the end result.  Except for the fact that I was left with the distinct feeling that perhaps we got lucky and we just as well might have chosen to proceed using the “committee design approach”.

Analyses

I could of course pat myself on the back for being smart and saving the day, but I don’t think that would be very honest. I think there were a lot of different things in the meeting dynamic that let to this positive end result and luck also played a large part. I think that there were also certain “forces” that could have pushed us into a more undesirable end result. This list is by no means comprehensive and only reflects my initial thoughts on possible reasons why a group would not utilize good working practices:

  • Not enough knowledge about good working practices for the situation (the obvious one, but perhaps not the most important one)
  • Will I look foolish if I suggest something new and the others don’t support it?
  • Will I make the “chairman” look stupid and cause him to have negative feelings towards me?
  • Will I look like a smartass?
  • Someone else must have thought about it before and there must be a good reason why we are doing it this way
  • Time pressure – it’s just easier not to try a new way
  • Risk adversity – what if the new way does not work
  • Not my role/job
  • The new method is cool, but does not suite this context / our business culture
  • If I make a suggestion I should be an expert in the method
  • If I make a suggestion I will be responsible for the results
  • Let’s not rock the boat
  • The others won’t go for the new method (prejudice)
  • This has worked for us in the past, so it will work this time as well (no need for new methods)

Help me make this list better by telling me: 1) what’s not on the list, 2) what are the most important reasons in your opinion. I would also love to hear your strategies to overcome these obstacle to new and better working methods.

Posted in Management, Methods and frameworks, Services | 2 Comments