Tuesday, December 29, 2009

RIP Chainsaw


I lost the brains of the operation last night.
Fitness coach.
Relaxation mentor.
A constant through many tumultuous years.
We had 16 awesome years together.

Rest in peace old friend. I'll miss you.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Open Letter from the Trenches

Dear new C-level person:

I have been asked to represent the members of trench 52A - the group that helps you do stuff.

We are happy that you got the position and, from the information we have received so far as it has trickled down through the 5-layer management chain, think you are headed in the right direction.

We would like to help you make your vision come to life.

We have been tasked to implement a new tool that some believe will help the department function better.

So that our solution more closely correlates with your vision, we have a few questions:

1) If you could design an ideal department (forgetting about all legacy resources such as existing tools, systems, personnel) - what would it look like?

2) How would you define success?
2a) What quantitative goals do you have for this department's performance?
2b) Any qualitative goals?

3) What considerations do you wish for us to keep in mind as we help you implement your vision?

Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions. We look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Employee 432849SDR
Trench 52A

Thursday, December 10, 2009

What I Learned in 2009

I'm not going to entirely couch this in terms of "What I Learned About Learning" (this month's Big Question) because I think it is all of a piece this year.

Lesson 1: Learning how to play well with others

I find that playing well with others often means ceding control. This requires huge amounts of trust.

This year, the administrative team for our partially implemented LMS grew from 1.5 (the Veteran did a lot of work with the Instructor-Led tracking piece) to 4.

I trust the other team members implicitly.

Why? History. Having worked with them before and realizing (fairly quickly) that these are smart people with the best interest of the University at heart. They seem to feel the same way about me.

We also have the same goal - an easy place for our staff and faculty to find professional development resources.

As a result, we are finding ourselves asking each other more questions, using each other for feedback on various eLearning tools and topics (not just the LMS), and letting others know before the fact if we are doing something that impacts them.

It ain't policy - just common courtesy. Seems rare in the corporate environment.

Lesson 2: The difference between a functional and non-functional team is trust.

On the Vignette project, the team trusts each other. I've had more support from the Technical Lead and other Subject Matter Experts than I have on any other project in my professional career.

The resulting time spent in preparation + regular communication made the implementation and training less stressful than I anticipated. I also think the quality of the resulting training was better. At least, people walked away happy.

The follow-up calls I've received over the past few months have been more a result of them not using the system since the initial implementation and forgetting some of the details of how things work. I consider that success.

Despite having been working on another high-profile project the past few months, the team has kept me informed of changes in the system. The technical team has made changes to make the product more consistent and user-friendly. This can do nothing but make it easier to train.

My springtime project, develop an ongoing training and support program for Vignette.

I do this willingly because the team is so great to work with and I know I will get the support and information I need.

The project I just finished does not have this level of trust among the team members. As a result, meetings are more of the finger-pointing variety than of the decision-making variety. Thankfully, I have invisibility as a superpower. Another way my years as a stagehand have helped in my professional life ;)

The other result is that I find myself not wanting to perform any extra work. The politics and effort, plus the lack of support, just doesn't make it seem worthwhile. Even if it is something that DESPERATELY needs to be done.

Lesson 3: If you have to work with folks you don't trust, make sure you have a Plan B (and supporting documentation).

Thankfully, I learned this lesson much earlier in my professional career so I wasn't caught by surprise. Just received an unfortunate reminder this year that even in the best environments, you will occasionally get burned.

A nice thing about having experience is that when you run into the unpleasant situation again, you are less likely to get freaked out. You have a better idea of what to do next. And if it doesn't work, that's one other thing you don't need to try again.

Lesson 4: Having a smart, focused network is invaluable for professional development

Between Twitter, Facebook, Google Reader and the blog, I'm seeing the benefits of having a smart, focused network. I learn so much from my morning Google Reader and Twitter reading. I've gotten some fantastic feedback on the LMS and on other challenges I am facing.

Understand that the key word here is focus.

On Twitter, I follow eLearning and folks whose feed is more signal than noise.

My Facebook friends are also professionals in related fields. Pretty strange considering that the proportion of personal friends / professional friends has tipped to 60/40. Many of my childhood friends have put together some really interesting careers. I get great feedback from them that provides a different perspective from the folks I relate to more professionally.

This is like getting a PhD but with a better choice of professors, less time in the classroom, fewer office politics and without having to write a dissertation in academic-eze. All of the advantages (except maybe the title and diploma), none of the hassle.

You can see why I am having a tough time motivating myself to go back to school ;)

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I'm planning to continue the theme of teamwork for 2010. Why? Well, it's a skill I still need lots of practice in. Other reason: my success with social media I think really hinges on the ability to play well with others. Sharing. Trusting. Communicating honestly.

Thank you everyone for reading this blog and the twitter feed. Thank you for your feedback and ideas. You have made me a much better learning professional this year as a result.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Turning an amorphous blob into a chaotic ball

You're overcomplicating it Wendy.
- SysAdmin Guru

So I've managed to get a baseline technical process figured out for the awkward project.
- Person enters a staffing request
- Staffing request goes to manager
- Manager assigns a resource

Pretty straightforward.

Where I got stuck - what resources, as a manager, do I have to determine which resource to assign?

Well...there is (supposedly) information from the time sheets people (supposedly) have been entering.

There is also (supposedly) information from the projects that have (supposedly) been added to the system by (seemingly random) managers.

Assuming that we have the information from the time sheets (past trends, actuals) and information from the projects (future needs, projections), there should be a way I can take the Time and Project information so that I can make informed decisions on resource allocations....right?

And this is where Wendy learns that the modules of this awkward project are more independent than they first appeared.

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Now that is just the technical issue. A conversation with the SysAdmin Guru and his friend the Tech Goddess reminded me of some of the deep systemic, process and cultural issues that exist.

Combined, the SysAdmin Guru and the Tech Goddess have almost 50 years of experience in technology. They have been with the organization for 25 some-odd years. I wanted to talk to them because I feared that I was going down a rabbit hole and needed some insight.

Here's what I learned:
- We possess a haphazard project management process

- Though the Main Muck is trying to establish some accountability for time, timelines within the project are still flexible - usually hurting people who need to perform tasks later in the project.

- There is no accurate assessment for how long something actually takes. The Tech Goddess suggested that there are multiple tools out there for benchmarking tasks in our field. "No one seems to use them."

- There is no accountability for budget as long as you get things done "on time."

- There is a lot of bleed between operations and projects. Someone who is on a project who gets pulled for operational tasks can impact the project.

- There may be an issue of skill-set among the staff if you attempt to make 1 team operations and 1 team projects.

- For those who are more project-based vs. operations-based - there is no clean handoff (or NO handoff in most cases). What happens is that folks who tend to be dragged into projects wind up with an ever-increasing set of operational responsibilities, which then impacts time spent on projects.

- Because there has been a change at the top of the organization - we have a lot of folks running scared. As the SysAdmin Guru put it "No one is willing to tell the truth."

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All of this goes back to the main question - which has to be addressed to the Main Muck

What are we trying to accomplish and what does "success" look like?