Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Little Black Book II

My last post didn't go over terribly well. Some people didn't get it, and a couple outright disagreed with me, which is fine. But what they disagreed with indicates to me that I did a poor job of making my point, which was this: you need to have the right solution for the problem being solved. I'm not opposed to CMMi at all, but I haven't seen any data that shows how it addresses some of the problems that IT is trying to fix. It's being held up as the one vehicle that got Flex Services (an IT team) on track. Again, I haven't seen the data. Flex getting better and them using CMMi is a correlation, nothing more. But my point isn't that CMMi is wrong or bad, just that it's not a substitute for knowledge, experience, or education.

And this gets us to the heart of the problem. How many people in IT throw more resources at a project when it gets behind schedule? How many can't see some obvious people bottlenecks in projects or programs well before they hit them? Why do projects continue miss dates for the same reasons they did years ago? Largely because this stuff is hard and unpredictable. We can't predict what a vendor will do. We can't predict that people 1/2 way around the world won't hit their deadlines. We can't predict that integration of two different systems isn't going to work well. Right?

This stuff is hard, but it's always been hard. Why are some people are really good at it, and rarely miss deadlines or resources estimates? What do they know that we don't? I think it's the knowledge that the chaos of IT systems is usually predictable and manageable. Process certainly helps, but it's the understanding of how these things work, regardless of the technology, that makes it more manageable. And more importantly, it's understanding how the people work that makes estimation successful. They work in largely predictable ways, and despite this we are constantly surprised by how teams behave.

So where is this font of knowledge? How can everyone acquire these magical skills? Some of it is experience, but a lot of what's required is knowledge and a different set of skills that have been developed over the past 30+ years. So here are some recommendations: send everyone in IT through a basic project management course. I'm still amazed that some people can't reliably manage tasks to time lines. And yes, send those who need it through CMMi training.

There are also some IT books that should be mandatory reading for all people, program, and project managers. The knowledge in these books would add far more value to IT's productivity and Intel's bottom line than CMMi. The first book that managers need to read is The Mythical Man Month. Also, Death March and Peopleware should also be required reading.

These may be somewhat dated, particularly the Mythical Man Month, and they are not a panacea for all the problems facing IT. And there are tons of other excellent books, perhaps even better books, on how to manage technology and people. But when I see people who don't understand some of the basic concepts outlined in these books making multi-million dollar resourcing decisions it makes me want to strangle them. Having broader knowledge would give us a level playing field for discussing and managing our projects and resources.

So maybe over the next six months or so we'll see some managers walking around with one of these classics that is new to them rather than the latest book off the Harvard Business Review reading list. Any other recommended reading for IT?


Anonymous said...

There is one very important thing here that is being totally overlooked. Flex is a consulting business and if they do not make money they simply got rid of their contractors.

Pretty simple way to do business, but what we have here in IT is too many dated senior managers and too many minions creating work to justify their jobs. The problems are numerous from management to working across multiple time zones, so culture where we allow the loudest (not the smartest person) to rule.

CMMI won't change these issues, it will just justify someones job to make sure we all suffer through it.

Josh Bancroft said...

Great post!

Ooh! Ooh! I have a suggested for the Intel Required Reading List:

The Cluetrain Manifesto

(read all of it online for free at http://www.cluetrain.com)

And not for the obvious "Josh is a blogger and this is their bible so of course he'd recommend it" reason. Though that's a good one. ;-)

Because it takes a hard look at the psychology of modern business, and more importantly, the fact that we're all people. A "corporation" is nothing more than a legal fiction. The reality is that we're all a bunch of individual people working together for a common cause. And Intel, like lots of other companies, has almost completely let the "human" aspect of just about everything slip by the wayside. There are those who are fighting to change that, of which I consider myself one. But we need more.

Send reinforcements, please! KTHXBYE! ;-)

Anonymous said...

Josh makes a great point. CMMi won’t solve the problems of IT, you need an element more rudimentary than simply a process that all can follow. The guys who think it will solve the problem are missing this rudimentary element – at least it seems. Here’s my theory…

My 10+ years of observing Intel’s people and systems leads me to believe there is an inverse relationship between “humanity” and “grade level”? It may exist at many other corporations as well. It is a by-product of the need to produce investment returns - almost at all cost. Focal is intended to filter out your human instincts or find people that had none to begin with. Why? You don’t want someone leading the company to make a call based on what’s good for the individual over what is good for the company. The belief is that it is not good for the bottom line. How many, like me, have turned away promotion to maintain their sanity or simply left for the same reason? How many others have lost those considered friends to the “Filter of Focal”? My best friends, those I could TRUST most, were those at the lower pay grade. Is this true for you as well?

Josh Bancroft said...

Interesting theory, Anonymous (the inverse relationship between grade level and "human-ness").

I wonder if there's something simple, cheap (or free) that we could do to build or emphasize the human side at Intel. Something viral, that spreads from person to person, it would have to be. No "tiger teams", no "process", no "planning".

But I'm not creative enough to come up with it. :-(

Anyone else have any ideas?

Intel IT Guy said...

All good comments. Josh, interesting link.

On the inverse grade/humanity, no doubt some middle and senior managers have either lost (or never had) a good sense of humanity. Some managers just want to get ahead and appear to be eager to demonstrate their business orientation above all else. It's ironic to me that managers who focus on the business over the people are ultimately worse for the company than those with better people focus. imo, Intel hasn't done a good job of evaluating managers and rewarding the right behavior.

Despite this, I've also seen some excellent behavior in the top levels of management, and Paul seems to set a good example of considering employee impact before making business decisions. I'm hopeful that more managers will start to emulate him in this respect.

Anonymous said...

IT Guy says that he has seen some excellent human behavior in Intel managers. I have to admit that I too have seen this behavior. I think the problem is the slope of the line relating human-ness and grade-level declines in times of pressure to produce results. We have all seen our groups tasked with more than they can handle and the human-ness of us all seems to evaporate with the added pressure.

I personally completely trusted and respected my GM for most of my 10+ year career. Our department grew substantially in the late 90s – along with all the other Intel groups. We went from fully functional to marginally competent in a little over 1 year. What was built in 5 years was nearly destroyed in 1 year. Expectations of what we could accomplish did not change. The drive to absorb groups and increase performance continued without sufficient resource to make it sustainable. The focal hammer was coming down hard on what seemed to be random victims. What was a trusting and seemingly human environment became a back-stabbing, bitter and completely stressful situation.

For me and many others there was a separation of management and employee during this time. There was no longer a partnership as had been the case prior to Intel’s growth. The separation came from the apparent dissolution of human-ness. Those without were managers and those with were employees. You could trust those with and you couldn’t trust those without.

The real fix and solution to the problem at Intel is not CMMi or another process. The solution comes when trust is re-built between the manager and the employee. Trust is re-established when the manager re-asserts himself as human. The more human-ness displayed, the more trust developed and the crevasse will close.

Josh suggested a virus of humanity spreading through Intel might be good for the company. At the risk of sounding too soft, maybe communication of some real examples of human-ness is the germ you are looking for?

Anonymous said...

What will happen one day if Intel realizes that the company that once valued its employees no longer exists? Or is this what Intel has already become? You bleed out your best and brightest employees, and yet things really aren't changing much are they? It would appear to me that unless or until Intel brings back value to employee and what they collectively bring to the table, nothing is going to change for Intel. I wonder how demoralized the average Intel employee feels these days? Are the layoffs really over? Or does everyone still work under the shadow of it happening if this plan that the powers that be have put into place doesn't work? What's next?