Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Happy vs. Content

Some time ago, my manager at the time was having 1-on-1 calls with each of his staff to do a routine temperature check.  During my call with him, he asked me a common question:  are you happy?  This is not an uncommon question, to be sure, but I wanted to use this blog entry to highlight the difference between being happy and being content in one's employment situation.

You may accuse me of splitting hairs, but the answer I gave to my manager highlights the difference between the two states.  I said to him, "I am definitely happy in my job.  You are a great manager; you have earned my respect as a business professional; and you allow me some latitude to do things that are outside of the scope of my responsibilities, which keeps my job interesting."  And then I continued, "but am I content with my role?  No."

Three parts to this recipe
How is it possible for someone to be happy but not content?  You can look up the definition of the two words if you wish, and argue the philosophical aspects of this question over a cup of camomile tea, but a more practical definition is needed if it's to help you actually get to a state of contentedness.

So what is required for someone to be content?  I came up with three components:

Responsibility.  People like to know that they are valued.  And there is no greater indicator of this than to have responsibilities beyond the mundane.  There will always been the mindless activities to do, whether you are entering time in Salesforce, mopping the floor at your after school job, etc.  But to have something beyond the mundane shows a level of trust in your capabilities for which there is no substitute.

Impact.  However, responsibility alone is not sufficient.  For if the task given to you has no real impact on your group, division, business unit, or company then it's easy to come to the conclusion that the sincerity behind the assignment of the task is superficial.  In other words, it's easy to imagine the following conversation:

Manager 1:  who do you think we can convince to paint the roof?
Manager 2:  ah, let Larry do it.  If he messes it up, no one will notice.  After all, who looks at the roof?
Manager 1:  Larry!  Come here!  Boy do I have a great job for you!...

Compensation.  This final component is probably the least surprising.  Nothing will get someone riled up more quickly then finding out that their peers who have similar sets of responsibilities are being paid more than they.  I cannot count how many conversations I have had with coworkers where they have complained that they were the least paid of anyone in their role.  (Whether they were in reality is another point entirely.)  I, myself, have also had pains of jealousy when I felt I was underpaid.

There are myriad articles on the Internet about discussing compensation with one's manager, but I would argue the same principles apply to the other two components described above.  And while these discussions are not always easy to have, the possible reward of true, long term contentedness are worth overcoming the resistance you may have to sitting down, talking about your desires, and setting mid- to long-term goals for the future that allow you to reach this state of nirvana.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Is Success the "End Game?"

(Originally published on www.servicevirtualization.com)

I've often felt that technologists are very good at thinking in terms of whites and blacks, since problems in the realm of IT are often expressed as one of two states:  either the server is responding, or it isn't; etc.  So it's unsurprising that executives with strong backgrounds in technology (vs. the CxO who is more business focused) think that success is often a good stopping point.  After all, if the server has an uptime of 99.9999% then you really can't do much better.  Can you?

The answer depends on how you define "success."  It's easy enough to define a threshold and state that crossing that line is what success is.  But I would challenge you to justify the particular threshold that you have established.  For something like 99.9999% uptime that may be easy to do, but for something where the threshold is much lower (and, consequently, the potential upside is larger) you will have a much more difficult time convincing me that you cannot do better.

This is especially true in process related situations where automation is not being fully utilized.  In previous blog entries, I've quoted the following figures, which come from Forrester's Q4 2010 Global Release Management Online Survey:
  1. 64% of the respondents were dissatisfied with the level of automation in their software release processes.
  2. 54% of the respondents were dissatisfied with their ability to recover in the event of a problem either during release or with the application.
  3. 50% of the respondents were dissatisfied with the speed of each iteration of the release process.

Items 2 and 3 are the result of item 1, since processes that are primarily manually executed do not typically have rollback capabilities built in nor are they speedy.  This may mean that an organization has deluded itself into thinking it is Agile in its ability to respond to ever changing market conditions when, in reality, it is Fragile instead.

To the original point, your company's PMO may examine the portfolio of projects underway and determine that a high percentage of them are operating within time and budget constraints, so they are happy.  But how do you reconcile their satisfaction with the three items listed above?

To answer:  you don't.  Your processes can always improve.  And, from the same survey, when 44% of the respondents said that it would take a week or longer to roll out a change to even a single line of code, you can start to appreciate exactly how much improvement is possible, at least in the example of application release stated here.

The detriment to getting an action plan adopted and executed is one of determining the financial impact of not executing such a plan, i.e. your primary competitor is inertia.  The plain reality is that many organizations do not measure the adverse results of a lack of automation.  For example, do you know how much more revenue your company would generate if it could quadruple the number of releases of your primary revenue generating application per year?  Do you even know how you would determine this figure?

The upside potential of integrating automation into your processes (whether Dev or Ops processes) should be compelling enough to warrant investigation into the matter.  Take a look at the metrics currently used to demonstrate success.  Determine which of those are really metrics of the metrics, and then look at the core metrics to see if they are really in line with current industry expectations.  Finally, examine how automation would allow those core metrics to be raised so that your organization can become more Agile and less Fragile.