Thursday, February 28, 2013

Taking Things Out of Conferences

An animated discussion at Philz Coffee, San Jose CA, with Brian Dusablon and Craig Wiggins.
Whatever I was talking about must have been fascinating.
It was probably about breakfast burritos....

The Data Whisperer walked into my office for one of our Friday Conversations.

How was the conference?

Good. I think the folks in my sessions got what they needed out of it.

The Data Whisperer looked at me quizzically.  This is not an unfamiliar expression.

What about you?

I probably looked at him with that same quizzical expression.

Going into the conference - my whole goal was that people got what they needed out of my sessions.  I wasn't particularly expecting to get "anything out of it" other than the experience of presenting and participating in a panel discussion, a quick look-see at the state of the vendors, a Psycho donut and a nice meal with Aaron Silvers and Megan Bowe.

I got that out of the conference. 

After a significant amount of processing time - I realized that the most "value" I got out of ASTD TechKnowledge was in the serendipitous side conversations away from the conference rooms and vendor hall.

I'm headed to Austin for Up to All of Us this weekend.

Despite Brian, Aaron and Megan's attempts to explain it to me - this is one of those "you'll understand when you get there" situations.

I'll be the first to admit, I am a little nervous. And I am at a bit of a loss for what to "prepare."

There are some topics I hope to get some insight on:
- Building communities of practice
- Learning analytics and data
- Feedback on the Learning Ecosystem I'm attempting to build.
- Best approach to building a flaming marshmallow trebuchet

If we talk about NONE of those, that will be fine too.

From what I'm hearing and seeing from last year's participants, however, the takeaways were deeply personal - not just professional.

I suspect that if I keep my expectations open - what I come away with will be richer than anything I can "plan" for.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Adventures with the Aeropress

First attempt at the Bacon Taco. This turned out to be more of a "soft shell" bacon taco. 
The filling - cheddar, avocado, red cabbage, slow-cooked beef, Mom's homemade taco sauce.

Next iteration - cook the bacon more for a "hard shell bacon taco."
Still delicious.
Currently, there are two people whose food recommendations I follow:

- Guy Fieri - I find him unwatchable on anything other than Diners, Drive Ins and Dives, but to date his restaurant recommendations have been spot-on.

- Aaron Silvers - Because he provides epic ideas for kitchen experiments, like the Bacon Bomb. And the Bacon Taco. And his restaurant recommendations are also spot-on.  Plus, I'm more likely to eat with him than with Guy Fieri and he's less obnoxious (though Guy may be a really nice, thoughtful dude who reads lots of books in real life.  Don't know...)

One of Aaron's more recent kitchen recommendations is the Aeropress.

I am a lemming.  If Aaron says that the best source of sushi is found at the base of a 50" cliff and the only way to access it is by BASE jumping in a wingsuit, you bet I would follow.

So, of course, I had to buy one.

My history with coffee is a bit checkered.

In my youth, I had a nasty two pot a day habit that included the cooked out dregs from the bottom of the old, stained carafe (I was a stagehand!  Sue me!).

As I "matured" - I managed to get consumption down to a 36 oz max (most days).

Still a "coffee slut" - McDonalds, Starbucks, 7-11, overcooked pots, percolated, french press, I'll drink it. I've even been reduced to DECAF (the horror!).

In an attempt to be a little more sophisticated in my coffee consumption (and to slow it down just a tad), I purchased the Aeropress and a coffee grinder.

Yes, the Aeropress makes coffee faster.  But the time spent making the coffee is involvement time.

Think - making an omelet vs. dumping a slab of beef, a can of tomatoes and a frozen bag of pre-chopped veggies in a slow-cooker. The slow cooker takes a lot longer, but the involvement time (if you are just doing the dump and cook) is much less than the omelet.  And there is a lot more room for error in the slow cooker vs. the omelet.

The Aeropress is also a test of my coffee-making prowess. 

Get the temperature wrong, the ratio of coffee to water wrong, the type of beans wrong - you wind up with either tepid dishwater or a sour-brown substance.  Of course, I will drink both (because I am a coffee slut) - but I find that I need to be a bit more scientific about my coffee making.

On the bright side - it slows down consumption.  And I haven't even brought the grinder variable into the equation yet.  I've been using the pre-ground stuff from the grocery store that I had gotten for my French Press (remember: coffee slut).

So I will continue playing with this toy. If only to keep myself occupied with the search for the "perfect" cup of coffee.  And put some controls around my nasty coffee addiction.

Friday, February 22, 2013

The Hole in the Sidewalk

Some really amazing sidewalk art from Julian Beever (Pavement Picasso)
My last post pretty much categorized all of the fears I have around this new Learning Ecosystem thing.

A good night's sleep and I think I can see those concerns for what they are:
- The Lizard Brain (Seth Godin)
- The Resistance (Steven Pressfield)
- The Flinch (Julian Smith)

Admittedly, these concerns are very real. 
Part of what makes those fears as strong as they are is that I have lived through all of them.
Multiple times.
Various iterations.

Sometimes - I think knowing what's coming is worse than ignorance.
Even though I've survived it before.
Even though I have a pretty good idea of what I want to do this time to avoid the "hole".

There Is a Hole in My Sidewalk
Autobiography in Five Short Chapters

By Portia Nelson

Chapter One
I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in.
I am lost…I am helpless.
It isn’t my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.

Chapter Two
I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend that I don’t see it.
I fall in again.
I can’t believe I am in this same place.
But, it isn’t my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.

Chapter Three
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in…it’s a habit…but,
My eyes are open
I know where I am
It is my fault.
I get out immediately,

Chapter Four
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

Chapter Five
I walk down another street.

Let's see what chapter I am on.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Owner vs Provider

As we work towards a more comprehensive Learning Ecosystem vs. a single LMS, issues of roles crop up.

In my admittedly simplistic and incomplete understanding:

  • Business / Customer 
  • Identifies business needs
  • Makes sure the service / program meets customer requirements
  • Identifies opportunities for improvement
  • Point-of-contact for the service or program
  • In our environment - often outside of IT
  • Technical / IT
  • Makes the service / program happen
  • Makes sure the service / program keeps running
  • Often comprised of multiple roles / people
Seems pretty clear-cut.  One makes the decisions, the other does the work.
But how is this really going to work in practice with real humans vs. on paper?

As my pet LMS morphs into a Learning Ecosystem and the resulting exponential increase of complexity in the management of it, I am finding myself resisting the loss of control this entails.

Am I going to wind up with multiple bosses from my own and other departments telling me what to do?  Right now, I am staring at - a program owner (outside of my division), a program manager (not in my immediate management chain), and my current management chain.  On paper, this doesn't look like a big deal.  In practice - this could be a complete cluster as higher-up type people fight for my time and bandwidth.

I've been running this thing on my own for so long - will these people take the fun stuff (strategy, design) and leave me with the grunt work (user administration, troubleshooting, course conversion)?

Will my input be valued once I've worked my ass off to get this beast built?  Will I get pushed aside while others get all the glory if this bugger actually works?

What are the chances of this devolving into finger-pointing between departments if things don't work as expected?  When I get caught in the middle (because it will happen), how bad will it get?

Who actually does particular tasks which may fall in between the cracks - such as management of individual projects within the program? Determination of support strategy?

I'll admit I am feeling a little pessimistic about how this will all work in practice.
- I'm a pessimist by nature and love disasterizing
- I've been burned before.  More than once.

Could be the "control freak" gremlin rearing its ugly head again.

Could be the natural fear of change.

Could be me having only a partial understanding of what my upper management wants to do with my idea and where they think I fit into it.

Could just be me feeling really selfish and put upon right now. (To anyone who knows me in real life - it is not you).

There is one team that seems to have successfully gone through this transition - including the struggles.
May be time for a little bit of outreach.....

ITIL v3 Roles
About the ITIL Service Owner - The IT Skeptic
ITSM Roles - University of Chicago (pdf)
Program Management vs Project Management

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Finding Playmates

As I mentioned in a previous post, new people have appeared in my world to help me with this learning ecosystem. One of them is HRIS Dude.

HRIS Dude is proving to be a willing playmate and lab rat for one of my more “out there” ideas. He made the mistake of coming into my lair office one day for another meeting.

HRIS Dude is in the throes of a long overdue data cleanup project.

Data quality is so bad that we are having a tough time putting together an accurate org chart (among other things). We’re thinking of having a training element to this. As it stands, I am spending a ton of time fixing errors.

Hmmmm…. Are you up for a little experiment?

What are you thinking?

When were you planning to do training?

No plans yet – it just may need to happen at some point.

Are you willing to collect error reports for the next 3-6 months and keep track of how much time you spend on fixing those errors?

HRIS Dude eyes me suspiciously Yeah….

Are you tracking your time spent on these errors in a system somewhere?

I just found out that we have a help desk thing that was built for us a long time ago that we aren’t using. I can use that.

Awesome! And that system is already in the Data Whisperer’s reporting tool!

HRIS Dude eyes me with that “You are up to no good” look that has become very familiar recently.

So what are you thinking?

We can see what type of errors you are getting, how much time you and your team are spending correcting them, figure out an intervention, intervene, then see whether anything we did actually helped. The Data Whisperer and I have been talking about the lack of pre-measurement for months. This is an awesome opportunity and we never see this much lead time. You in?

Heck yeah!

The next step – getting my LMS into the Data Whisperer’s DataMart.
Sadly, that is proving to be not as easy as sticking chocolate in peanut butter…..

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Into the Great Unknown

.“God – grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference” – the Serenity Prayer
Emphasis mine…because this control-freak needs the reminder.
I have quickly discovered that what I am trying to build is a hairy scary thing that does not fit terribly well into our current models.

Our project management models appear to work better with single application implementations and upgrades. Even our most complicated project (revamping our communications system) is centered around the selection of a single-vendor and a previously integrated toolset.

My stuff appears to be special.

Essentially – I am trying to integrate multiple, unrelated things into a scalable whole.

Portal – likely NOT through an LMS vendor, because people aren’t working in an LMS and the vendors still won’t provide everything I need it to do. Besides, I want to be able to get folks where they are actually working vs. making them go elsewhere.

Reporting – I want to be able to leverage actual business information. That information isn’t appropriate for import into an LMS. I also want to be able to pull information from content that is outside our primary content library vs. trying to force an import into the content library. That solution isn’t scaling all that well, and with the issues with Java – won’t be sustainable unless our primary vendor comes up with a solution quickly.

I want to be able to plug and play.

I want the system to be so awesome that the individual terrorist cells that comprise our staff training “program” decide they want to use it too.

I want our employees to actually be able to find training and support without having to rely on the experience, knowledge, and aptitude of their manager. Ideally when and where they need it.

As a result of my attempt to do the hairy scary – I am finding myself in the interesting position of being a lab rat for:

The SWAT team’s attempt at creating a process for developing enterprise solutions

The business process folks attempts at creating an orderly project process

The Data Whisperer’s attempts to go from an artisan shop to a major Business Intelligence program, including governance

Because we don’t have defined processes for what I am trying to do, and because what I am doing touches other big hairy scary projects, everyone seems to be making stuff up as we go along.

It’s a pretty uncomfortable position to be in. I seem to be at the mercy of people much more powerful than I am. I’m still trying to figure out how to play well with others.

The next couple of years look to be an interesting lesson in managing upwards and letting go of the details.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Status Report on the Learning Ecosystem

I’m in the throes of a major learning ecosystem redevelopment project. Much of my radio silence has been the result of time spent “collecting bricks” – the materials I need for rebuilding this thing.