Tom Peruzzi's thoughts on digital, innovation, IT and operations

Focus baby

Posted in general failures, organizational, startup failures by opstakes on November 27, 2017

(thanks to pixabay)

There are tons of books out there claiming the importance of focus. Hence it seems like it is not as easy as written. After having done more than 150 due diligences in the tech space in Europe, having fulfilled 4 Interims CTO positions and now being board member of a digital marketing tech company I still do read such posts and books about focus. Why? Because as Sean Covey has written in his book about the 4 disciplines of execution we have to differentiate between urgent and import.

Eisenhower knew about that already and there is a matrix named after him which easily makes the necessary action transparent:

And I assume everybody could name a few more. The important thing is:

You need to focus yourself in order to be able to focus the organization!!!

Reading a book – fine, reading a blog and listening to a podcast – fine too. You cannot demand focus without being focused. So how do I focus myself? Simple said, use the matrix above 😉 But that is half of the truth. How do you know what is important, which battles need to be won to win the overall war? Yes, it’s strategy time again but in a more lean way.

Strategy is team effort!

I like to share what I have learned in a company: Build a grand vision which allows people to connect to, become passionate and be addicted. How to do so? Let it be their strategy. Strategy work is no longer the CEO thinking in the dark. Foster a common understanding there to go (with special thanks to Laloux’s Reinventing Organization) by letting all participate and no, it is not a basic democracy, it is a shared believe system. If you have done the strategy work each department will need some time to think about how to best support that strategy and then please let everyone know, what the departments think they need to do. The larger the audience, the higher the commitment. (we have tested strategy know-how before and after that and reached incredibly high scores). It is then the leaders work to support the organization to focus on the strategic direction and get rid of everything else which is distracting, produces friction and does not support the path towards success. As we always have to face day-to-day operational duties you will get some friction and reluctance anyhow. Even if you have a good understanding of the strategy and the tactics to make it happen, still there are plenty of reasons to stop, wait, slow down or turn the wrong direction. This is where discipline and focus come into play again.

It is often no fun for nobody to meet on a regular basis, share the goals and metrics and talk about next important steps but without discipline and focus you will either have a lucky punch or run into really big troubles. Either you do waterfall or agile (which is strict too) you will need a methodology to focus on (maybe I use the word too often).

In order to achieve that routine towards success I do prefer 2 methods, the older “Get things done” method or the 4DX mentioned above already. While “Get things done” is build on “Set focus” “Set time limits” “avoid perfectionism” “realistic expectations” and “update the way you work” the 4DX is similar but different. 4DX wants you to set 2-3 WIGs (Wildly important goals) max for each department and then you have to find correct lag measurements (what you want to achieve, e.g. getting down to 80 kg) and lead measurement (what leads you in the right direction, eg. movement per day, calories ..). To ensure success the affected team(s) meet on a regular basis and discuss the numbers which are open and transparent and ideally the dashboard is generated by the team members itself. The lead and lag example is easy for weight reduction. It is not that easy for distributed development or other IT related tasks. Being a friend of Daniel Pink and Frederic Laloux I want to encourage you to let your team think about the measurements, it is always astonishing how creative your own employees are if you just let them grow and flourish. And again, you and your team need to be focussed to get the right numbers. Being the leader of a engaged team which is delivering on high speed you need to be really focussed in what you are doing ,how you tweak the team and how you support the team.

A good team has the right to have a good and focussed leader! 

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Company Hackathons

Posted in general, general failures, startup failures by opstakes on October 5, 2016

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In one of my last blog posts I wrote about hackathons in general and what you should care of if you plan to invite externals (only). Organizing an internal hackathon only is somehow different with regards to drivers, motivation and resources.

The difference of internal and external hackathons

While an external hackathon is often an invite to others with similar/same interests to participate in some kind of joint co-innovation effort with (free) food (see also this wikipedia entry) an internal one is somehow different:

  • people know what you are doing already, potentially no need to explain the company goals but maybe biased as well
  • free beer and food is potentially limited
  • it is more about fostering the innovation capabilities of your crew rather than getting inspired externally
  • you have to rethink how to reward accordingly

The 3 models of internal hackathons

Generally speaking there are a few different ways to enable hackathons inhouse:

  • Developing a one-time event and reward with budget and resources to develop further and create a first prototype
  • Developing continous hackathons focussed on creating customer value
  • Developing continous hackathons focussed on solving problems, getting rid of legacy, fighting for a topic (eg. simplicity) or learning new technology

All of them are valid and vivid options and may be important tools in the company’s innovation toolbox. Anyhow all of them differ in how to set them up:

1.) One time event

Definitely I would never recommend to make a hackathon a one time event but let us have a closer look on it (and hopefully decide to make it an annual event 😉 )

The aim of such an event is mostly to foster internal innovation capabilities and capacities and get some special reward. Without reward it will be a nice event only and the reward should not be a bonus. Think about Daniel Pink and his book about motivation. What I have learned is a great bonus and reward is getting free time, a team and some budget to nail down your hackathons result and create a first PoC or even more. Don’t grant free time only. Free them up from daily routines, create extra time and space for them, let them be “their own boss” to solve the problem. A good reward is something like:

  • the best idea gets 3 people and enough money to go beyond PoC (eg. 30k Euro in digital space)
  • the 2nd best idea gets 2 people and some money to organize and manage the PoC and start thinking about how to go further (eg. 20k Euro in digital space)
  • the 3rd best idea gets 1 resource and some money to be able to go for the PoC if everything goes right but will need more personal effort to get  things done.

What you need to do too is to let them be as startup-like as possible and don’t confront them with enterprise barriers (eg. you have to use SAP as we use it internally). Let them be as enterpreneurial as possible.

Finally one important remark: If you decide to go further than “just” the PoC you have to contemplate on how you can reward them further. A good hint would be like xing did with the xing labs naming the origin of the feature released. (It’s not about money)

2.) Developing continous hackathons with focus on customer value

May it be hack days, weeks or special weekends, bringing together and let them explore without corporate control is a very unique experience and allows you to make use of the innovation potential of your employees. Be prepared: without proper reward it may become a one-time-wonder.

What we figured out during running hackathons is that the best reward you can get is that your idea gets implemented. So we ensured as the corporate leaders that at least 1 of the top 3 gets implemented within the next 5 sprints and are willing to do even more. Mostly it was even more because employees understand your product and market and often know upsell potentials better than you, even if they are not a sales or product expert.  You will experience a lot of surprise and please let people know and take part on your enthusiasm. Regular hackathons without the backing of the leadership team are worth nothing. Even the idea to have some fun or do some crazy stuff, ‘act like a startup’ will die immediately without proper reward and recognition.

3.) Developing continous hackathons with focus on solving problems

Similar to number 2 but slightly different with regards to the goal, maybe even more dedicated to a single team than a mixed effort. To help people getting rid of problems beside the daily routines dedicated hackathons to solve internal problems can be a good problem solving path.

Always share a topic, don’t let them do what they want and do not allow single-person actions. We figured out that e.g. simplicity (everything that makes your or your colleagues live easier), elasticity (everything that let us react automatically and properly on changing user demand) are pretty good examples, allowing space to develop and grow.

Again – and repeating – don’t forget the rewards and recognition. If you want people to participate and engage, be passionate please set up the right reward system. Again, mainly not money, recognition, being named as the origin source, or some special treatment may be way better than anything else. Create a demanding but fair jury, allow them to present properly and applause. It is the free extra work of your employees, don’t take that work for granted.

Conclusion and remarks

I would always propose to start with some hackathons. Beside creating value or solving problems you normally don’t have time for it is another great method to bring people in touch, let them form teams and learn the team mechanics of your department. You will be surprised seeing people work harder and longer you would have ever expected.

I personally got in touch with Cocreation while reading Chesborough’s book. It is fully understandable that no company can own all talent and should make use of it by doing co-innovation and co-creation. Hackathons are a good tool doing so.

We should not forget to not only foster the wisdom of the crowd but foster the wisdom of our crew too. This is why creating internal hackathons is equally important than external ones but often forgotten or canceled by daily operational business pressure. Let us change this and make use of the talent we have infront of us.

the knowing-doing gap

Posted in general failures, organizational by opstakes on February 8, 2013

Bildschirmfoto 2013-02-08 um 08.40.36There is a great book out there from Pfeffer and Sutton writing about the difference in knowing and doing. Even if you know it will not become reality you often start doing something in that direction. Even if you know this brings you into a dangerous situation, you keep on running. It is scary, honestly but human too.

The same often happens when talking about operations, QA and development. Some examples: Even if developers know that untested code often results in bad behaviour, stress and pain, the code gets deployed. Even if operators know that they should provide a service (the infrastructure and related daemons) they much more try to build barriers to “ensure stability”. Even if QA knows that controlling isn’t enough it is much easier to tell somebody that he did not reach the line instead of helping him/her coming there. We are all obliged to support the company we work for. If the company is run by idiots, please leave otherwise do your work as you promised with your signature.

We all live in a time where time becomes an evident issue, pressure is high, likelihood to fail too, but we are no longer allowed to fail even if a lot of enterpreneural books write about fail-learn-improve cycles. Often this happens as we react not like we know we should react. Business pressure, politics, friendships and sometimes the missing willing to change make us to some sort of organisational animal, no longer reacting rational in a human manner, much more rational in a corporate manner.

But as we are all obliged to Quality, as it is our wish to product high quality products/services, as achieving mastery is one if the fundamental personal goals of “running” we should try to bring in more evidence, react on what we know and not what best fits know and stop doing if we recognize the difference in knowing and doing. Another reason why this is that hard: the organisational culture has to support such behaviour. Saying “no” or “we must change …” has nothing to do with blaming, it’s a positive escalation showing new ways of working and thinking and propably (hopefully) better ones.  This has nothing to do with basic democracy, everyone should bring in his/her expertise and evidence to allow the company grow and prosper – knowing without doing isn’t enough!

Operations Strategy

Posted in general failures by opstakes on December 29, 2012

to operate or not to operate. If you believe in Henry Mintzberg (2003) saying that strategy has a lot to do with craftmanship and either deliberates or  emerges from the bottom then you potentially should use operaitons as one source of inspiration!

I do not want to talk about DevOps, NoOps or whatever Ops, the serious question is whether operations can participate in collective and corporate learning and generate benefit for an organisation or not, whether it creates some strategic extra or it is only a matter of costs. In the past a lot of people wanted us believe that operations is dying, becoming part of a museum, being exchanged with smart scripts, recipes, a lt of logic and automation and and and. The funny thing on the story: a lot of those ideas came from developers who – in the past – alsways had severe problems with operations for different reasons. And as development is a creative process being very near to products it often has a better internal voice than operations. How often did I hear that operations does not produce any strategic value to product X or servicy Y?! I cannot count that number, it is pretty to large I guess.

But this brought me to my story. Is ops really just about money? Is it the department socialiszing the developers ( 😛 )? Is it the steady continuuum of delivering a service? Or is it the bow before me for I am root fraction not worth sitting in an upper floor?

It is a strategic question which has to be answered. If you think in raw numbers operations can be outsourced, if you think in ressoruces, it can be outsources too, if you think in value and operations as a service than it potentially should stay in. The reason why? The more operations offers an infrastructure + processes as a service to its customers, the more it concentrates on its specific know-how and capabilities, the more it becomes a strategic asset. Yes, this is a long way to go and no, you cannot keep on acting the way you did the last 10 years. A good Ops manager must become a product manager of the corporate infrastructure, he/she must sell it to its customers, he must have passion in serving those needs. If so – I bet  – there will be no discussion for outsourcing or not, because that discussion will be driven by the ops manager to be able to deliver the best infrastructure available!

So please, dear Mr. Ops Manager, make you live easy and become a major part of the service chain. Go that way, even if it is the harder one, but this will keep you, your team and operations vivid and valid for the next period of time.

Missing seniority

Posted in general failures, organizational by opstakes on December 20, 2012

I thought for a very long term whether to write that post or not. The reason why thinking is that it should not be a claim for people with more experience like me, it is a claim for more seniority and you can gain that seniority even earlier.

BUT – and ofcourse there is a huge but – you never can run a good product launch project without seniority. This happens all days to all different types of companies, small enterpreneurial ones as well as large corporates. Define who you gonna go with before what to do and make sure you have the right skills and expertise on board upfront. If you, for example come to a point during a project that e.g. the PO or the Scrum Master is lacking expertise thus getting ignored or absorbed makes it much harder to change and refresh than spending some more time at the beginning.

If he/she lacks methodolgy, ok, get her a training, but you cannot train expertise and seniority and especially not within a week or month! There exist plenty of good people out there being well educated but not skilled, there are others doing a job for 6 months and gain a lot of insights and there are others working for 20 years more or less without thinking. This means for you that you do not search for a special age category nor for a special educated one. Education and age can be an indicator, but not the total truth. You have to search for the excellence by talking to them, becoming inspired by their drive and capabilities. Than you know you are right. For people there is one special rule you should always take care on: If you are not 100% sure, than leave it. You should never change the organisation to make the one fit. Either he/she fits into culture, climate and organisation or not. It is up to him/her.

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demand management is king

Posted in general failures by opstakes on May 19, 2011

we all use words, sometimes in business context, sometimes in tec one, sometimes casual, friendly sometimes hard and direct without being frankly. So we allow us and words to switch context but what we often fail is to mean the same. This is core reason why a lot of projects start to fail, loosing interest or getting politically killed.

There is definitely a difference in meaning, understanding and expectation between the requestor and the fulfillment part, it’s all time an agreement, either internally or externally. If you cannot manage your demands properly you will either fail to step upwards or you will likely rotten your external partners. The core question is, who’s reliable for getting things sorted correctly before the project starts? And – what I have seen – the often special words and acronyms are used, the more often people start talking about different issues/behaviours and understandings.

I definitely believe that you cannot say party x or y is responsible for getting things sorted out correctly before. Either it is business and time pressure not allowing you to do appropriate demand management or the other party is not willing to invest too much time and effort or political and hidden agendas.

You can start a very simple query: ask colleagues within your office whether they can do you a favor (not specifying which one) or ask them to do project management for you. Both are not defined correctly but both words are well-known. You will get a lot for from your colleagues but definitely not the way you wanted it to be.

The key to success is to use another 5 minutes within the agreement and define some positive and negative boundaries like: I want you to do project management for me, this includes tracking, risk management, documenting … but I do not want you to do all the financial stuff.

The better the fulfillment party asks or the better the requestor is able to define the better will be the success of the project, even with or without a contract with whatever clauses.

So start early by adopting a proper demand management process. You will not need an armada of employees doing requirements and demand engineering but you will need some general rules like:

  • the project only starts if the task is proper defined and positive and negative boundaries exist
  • at least 2 measurable KPIs for the goals exist
  • there is a mutual agreement of both parties that they understand the others needs

Some methodologies like scrum try to do so, this is quite good to know, but we need a general understanding and culture of demand management within the organisation.

If you want to know when to start: If not already in place start NOW. It is not a question of size, revenue or whatever, it is a question of respectful working with others to define clearly your expectations and goals. Start training your 3rd parties by delivering clear and distinct expectations and goals and accept the money you have to pay for, writing less but expecting more isn’t the way you can go for a long.

Wish you all the best with your demand management!

the wrong trust in cloud computing

Posted in BCM, general failures, startup failures by opstakes on April 29, 2011

What we have seen last week is that even large companies like Amazon can fail – on whatever reasons and with their tons of engineers, processes, procedures, technologies and mass of systems and servers. The question for you as a (potential) customer should not be why did they fail?

They had a rapid growth and even with the best engineers ever both growth and quality cannot run the same speed, their must be some sort of risk even if we still talk about human created systems. And to be honest I really believe that it can happen to all service providers out there soon, maybe tomorrow, next week or never, the likelihood to fail is a built-in function.

But what’s the question you should ask and answer yourself: How could I survive if my (wherever) instances or data goes down? It is not the fault of your provider if you miss all your data, it’s your fault if you had no strategy on how to deal with such a disaster? Nobody will expect you to come back to live and operations within 30 min if such a case occurs but you should have your BCM work done before. I know, if you – like many running on clouds now – are within online business time and speed matters, risk is ok as long as it is not happening, afterwards you get asked what happened and why you had no plan against …

So keep in mind, data security (integrity, authenticity, availability) is always your job, you can outsource (move to cloud) parts of the technical stuff, but the management and umbrella function always belongs to you. Yes it is a pity if your service provider goes done, but it is a shame if you have no plan how to cover such scenarios and come back to ops immediately.

This is the wrong trust in cloud computing, cloud computing can help you a lot, it can mitigate your volatility, it can enable you immediate growth, fast test and beta and whatever but you should know what your cloud provider is and what he delivers, do not overtrust. The provider delivers technology, you do the mesh-up, so keep an eye on the availability and security of your mesh-up!

the missing IT and Ops strategy

Posted in general failures, organizational, startup failures by opstakes on February 8, 2011

It often sounds like operators – or in specific IT operators – just operate on a day2day basis independent of what’s coming from the business and where the business is going to.

In fact this is bullshit. You cannot act as an operator if you do not know where your company is willing to go to! And even you cannot operate if your IT and your IT Ops department don’t knows how to answer on the business challenge and on how to challenge the own IT department. There is difference between “headless” and strategy less. We often see organisations with strong management in terms of discipline, procedures and routines but they still fail. The reason why is not bad engineering … it is a lack of understanding that beside discipline and processes you need 2 more factors (I would not call them soft or whatever and I will not write about culture!)

  • a strategy showing people there to go to
  • challenge from the market

It is quite interesting to see that the less IT strategy exists the more you hear something like “we are so extra complex and not comparable to market … we have superior engineering on board …. we cannot compare to market as we have special self written applications …. the market will not understand our demand …. ” Potentially we will be able to name tons more of those bullshit arguments.

I worked a serious long time as a systems engineer with potential the same “ideas” regarding our rocket science ops platform ;-). Once I went to the CTO as he asked me to have a look at a special solution being on the market. I told him the pros and cons for about an hour and explained why this is shit. At the end he pointed out that if 1000 people think this is good solution and I think this is shit …. who will be the right one? The funny thing behind …. we used that solution and were quite happy, it was near market standards and we started to build our special ops platform market conform and got tons of more possibilities; on the economic and on the tech value!

Why this is important? The CTO had the strategy to be as market compliant as possible but staying rocket science in the business related tasks, processes and programmes. He showed us that this strategy is able to work and how the company benefits from the strategy (he did not mention in detail that engineers are easier to exchange if you use market standard hardware and software 😉 )

Next thing is that if you do not be on your own on both, organisational and technical, than you can take part on market innovation and inspiration. Mostly market will be much faster and innovative than you are, especially this should help you in the security environment. Keep an eye on being as secure as the market allows you to be. The most innovative internal solution will not help if you cannot participate in security development speed!

Let’s summarize: Have a strategy, give your people a mission, a scope and an idea of how to go forward, don’t forget to check the market and do not hesitate to accept that market is faster and more innovative than you and your department, nothing  to shame on, only if you think you can be much faster as the rest of the world. Hopefully or potentially you will be able to exactly tell the “I’m the fastest” story to your business than talking about core processes, metrics and IT/business behaviour!

Ops and Movie

Posted in general failures by opstakes on January 18, 2011

This post is inspired by Rita’s blogpost showing an interdependency between Coppola’s view on movie sets and organizations and how a startup or company looks like. According to Rita Coppola’s code of ethic is:

  1. Write and direct original screenplays
  2. Make them with the most modern technology available, and
  3. Self-finance them.

Thinking about that as a company sounds like plenty of work, quite easy and like day2day task (strategy, methodology/technology, money) thinking about that in regards to (IT)Ops looks quite harder, but think about IT Ops as a self driven (self financing) organization brings you to 100% the same situation:

1.) Write and direct original screenplays

What’s the vision of your IT Ops department, what’s the mission, which scope and borders do you have to take care? As IT Ops is an Service Fulfillment “company” think about who your (internal) customers are … and how to best reach them?

2.) Make them with the most modern technology available, and

Which technology, ops methodology and process frameworks do you need to fulfill your companies and your customers needs, compliance and security belongings? Not more, not less, within SLAs, not oversized, hypersecured or whatever, but “on the edge”, create a platform for your Ops Environment and keep on developing (use methods like DevOps to secure ongoing Ops Platform Development). Keep your system, your eco-system and your development up and running, always think about customer success and customer value than investigating in technology. Sounds easy, isn’t it. Ops business is people and stress driven “keep alive”, mostly you have no time and/or money to keep your ecosystem up and running. Step back, think about your mission and why you are there as an Ops ? The worse the situation the more pressure will be. Pressure to improve and pressure to outsource. The worse you do the more will stand up and ask why your company does operations on their own… Is it key value to the company?

3.) Self-finance them.

Mainly not your problem, you get the money you get out of your budget, some percentage of overall budget and that’s it, but: Think like a company will do… How do you want to use your money? Just to keep licensing up and running? Just to bring in 2 new e-gadgets per year to fulfill your admins needs of “the new hardware”? Can you do some strategic investment in potentially interesting trends (like trying all those beautiful clouds before your customer wants you to use the cloud?)? Even if you have your fixed budget act as a company, do IT controlling and understand, where your money goes to and whether it creates value or not. If you control and understand your finance structure you will be able to start reflecting your organization and your investment strategy. And beside that: If you know and understand your cost structure you will be in a much better for the upcoming budgets! If you can talk to an economist at his level he will understand and respect you. A Firewall will be no longer “another expensive electric toy for IT”, it will be a risk-reduction investment to secure the company’s IP and business flow…

Thinking about, Coppola can be used for both, company and standalone Ops.

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Ops Predictions 2011

Posted in general failures, ITSM, organizational, startup failures by opstakes on December 21, 2010

End of year is coming, time for review and predictions …

What we have seen this year is the emerging trend to try to move to the cloud. Why say try? Cause a lot of different lacks did delay decisions: lack of experience, lack of manageability, lack of security, lack of commodity, lack of portability and much more but the train cannot be stopped anymore. We will continue to see different diverse ways to the cloud, the aggressive one (we just do it), the one’s moving via private virtualization, the one’s doing outtasking to the cloud and the one’s not knowing that they are already in the cloud.

So what’s next? According to the analysts cloud is directly on the way to the phase of desilusion. Sounds bad but isn’t so. We now reach the working scene, the marketing whow is over and we can start working on a deep and permanent way. So think about it: cloud will become commodity in 2011, we will stop talking about who’s in the cloud or not, we will start just using it.

This leads to another trend for 2011: cloud operations. We did central operations, decentral operations, virtual operations, outsourced operations, outtasking and whatever, next is cloud operations. Maybe you will not take care on it but potentially you will have to think about how to operate your IT then parts of your IT are somewhere (you do not even know exactly the location, just the name/identifier of the cloud).

This leads to tons of aspects in terms of all ITSM processes, especially change mgmt (do you still own your cloud virtual environment … how to combine those releases …), incident, event and problem mgmt. (who manages what?), SL management and all others, with special focus on IT financials.

Next trend, partly invoked by ideas like DevOps is agile operations. The more agile the company, the more agile development the more event driven the IT. This leads to agile operations for the IT ops department. So how to do so?

Agility means being very flexible and self responsible within a certain frame/border. Agile operations mean being very reactive, fast and flexible within a fixed set of frameworks/standards to deliver prompt IT resources on a very $$based approach.

So agile operations relies on cloud operations and vice versa. In my understanding and strong believe the trend per se for 2011 should then be called

agile Ops operations

So what does this mean for you? Think about strong boundaries and frameworks married with a high level of ops automation. This superset is then offered to your company / development enabling them to use ops resources on demand and cost sensitive. You as the ops entity do all the cloud stuff either private, hybrid or public within your defined subset to deliver on a regular and flexible bases predictable IT.
For me this sounds reasonable good. Remember, I’m an ops man … doing agile ops operations even means you create your ops platform (DevOps), you keep the releases within your responsibility but you stop from reacting and being the holy grail nobody knows about within your company. Ops get’s public, viable and business enabling to the company! This is our all time goal and this must be the goal for all of us.

We will see what happens exactly in 2011, hopefully my predictions comes to truth by 80 %.

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