Help Wanted: Inspiration for an Engaging Workshop?

March 30, 2012 Leave a comment

It happened this day that I got a chance to conduct a workshop with business with the goal to clarify business strategy & needs to the level which helps us to define a target architecture (for now whatever a target architecture means). Put it simply, I expect a discussion about business strategy & needs, asking questions and trying to understand what characteristics a target architecture should have (for sure to be flexible and cheap, no question about that).

Now, the environment I am in is quite challenging, not always with a positive attitude among stakeholders or in general to the need of defining a target – let it be a certain future state or at least a direction – to this kind of discussion (“Read the strategy thoroughly and you’ll know what we need, stop bothering us” [over-exaggerating a bit here, just for illustration]). Yet I am not that skeptical though, so I am looking now for any inspiration that could help me lead such a strategic workshop with business that would exhibit the following:

  • Is really engaging for business representatives. Here I mean that they are willing to stand up, move, show interest, take a pen, sketch, discuss, think, creatively counter-argue… to literally participate and with positive attitude.
  • Creates “safe”, friendly and open atmosphere to express opinions and thoughts
  • Enables wider audience to take part – so we overcome the need for later alignment among core team members
  • Leaves the feeling that the workshop was useful, inspiring, perhaps even with a momentum for change, leaves a sort of emotional footprint that something was special and increases chances for commitment to further actions

More concretely, I am looking for ideas and inspiration on how to organize such a workshop, which “tools” to bring, how to moderate it, which ground rules to set and how to motivate certain collaborative attitude, perhaps a creative way of capturing stories, ideas (I assume business will talk more in terms of examples, experience or similar).

Anybody out there with a hands on experience willing to share few thoughts? (A piece of magic would do too!)

Categories: Uncategorized

“Toilet in the Kitchen” Analogy

February 18, 2012 1 comment

Just recently we managed to define guiding principles for managing development of corporate architecture. For one of them we found an analogy that not only beautifully links architecture issues to real life experience, but that actually sticks in mind so well that people are actively using it (not only architects!) so I thought I would share.

The underlying principle is boringly uninteresting “Separation of Concerns”, in my naive language saying “Put things where they logically belong” – you know, addressing the kind of discussions you have when you insist on implementing certain functionality or placing data in a concrete application simply because it’s just logical. Without going into the formal definition of the principle, we are just saying “Please, be so kind and use your BPMS to implement your processes, client related functionality mostly does belong to the CRM and when talking about the CRM, no it’s not the place for your mortgage simulation just because you’ve got full client profile there (by that logic you would end up with just one system anyway:)”.

At last, the reasoning analogy says

“I guess you don’t have a toilet in the kitchen either, eventhough there’s drain and water”.

“Sweet Tax” on Bad Architecture

January 10, 2012 Leave a comment

Recently I read an article about various implementations of the “Sweet”, “Fat”, “High Calorie” taxes in different countries. The story of the tax stroke me as quite a good analogy to what I am currently trying to tackle. So let’s have a look on how I perceived the problem and the solution.

The problem:

High obesity rate

versus

High cost / Slow time-2-market

Problem characteristics:

  • Complex problem (“in which the relationship between cause and effect can only be perceived in retrospect, but not in advance, the approach is to Probe – Sense – Respond and we can sense emergent practice” [Cinefin])
  • Only long-term effects, difficult justification of corrective measures
  • Lot of arguments for and against cause & effect relations

Tax solution characteristics:

  • Taxation of one or more generally accepted sources of weight/health problems, such as single ingredients, nutrients (saturated fat, sugar…) or whole products (sugary drinks, candies)
  • Mostly flat application (with exceptions for baby products, medical products etc.)
  • Unlike e.g. alcohol/tobacco taxes, in this case some reasonable consumption of the nutrients in the matter is essential
  • Expected effect is two-sided:
    • Prevention effect that should demotivate high consumption by increasing price
    • Raising budget for funding prevention, medical expenses and so on

Has anybody ever tried to “tax” bad architecture? I’ve played around the concept of a technical debt and this might be a solution to paying off such a debt. The way I am thinking about it is following:

  • Define set of ground architecture principles to avoid big “No”s in architecture, and agree to them with all involved stakeholders. At this level the principles  are rather quite high-level to be understandable to wide audience, like “No duplication”.
  • Measure compliance to the principles on projects, report information to decision makers for consideration, track deviations and display consequences
  • Should the decision-making behavior stay the same (quick wins, dirty solutions, i.e. “eating a lot of sugary food”), introduce a tax (“Dirt tax” or “Quickie tax”:) on breaking principles to fund re-engineering later on. This would again have to be agreed with top executives and the prerequisite also is that principles are taken seriously, there is already gained trust and respect of the provided information and wide acceptance of cause & effect relation.

Standing at the beginning  – defining principles & getting buy in across the company & setting up related governance/assurance mechanisms – I am looking for insights what might be behind the horizon of what I can see right now. Anybody any experience, different (working) approach?

Categories: EA

“Can Do” Attitude Dilema

October 7, 2011 2 comments

Every time I see a job offer or a CV with “Can Do Attitude” mentioned I am wondering if I am such a guy too. It is the dilemma I have and I am looking for an answer here.

The problem that I have is where this attitude ends and where one’s experience starts. The experience that tells you what you should not be doing because it’s very likely going to fail. My feeling is that with all the lessons learned I am more and more becoming the “Can’t be done this way” guy. Not that I would be pessimistic, not at all. I am usually very positive, enthusiastic, motivated and I like the work I do. But I do have a tendency to avoid mistakes I saw and search for other ways that have perhaps a better chance of succeeding. I try to learn from mistakes that I or others make. Does this actually make me less valued? A show stopper? After some years and quite some big projects I can smell problems. I can see them sometimes as concrete as a chair I sit on because I have experienced the same few times before while others blindly believe that “can-do” attitude will help to overcome the problem (which – unsurprisingly – often leads to painful failures). For smaller companies which do not have that long history I can even see generations of solutions and yet new problems ahead, because for others who went through it it’s the past already.

So I sometimes feel helpless. I sometimes feel like trying to explain to children that they should enjoy their school-age, because later on in their lives they would love to be able to return to that wonderful naïve and carefree age (I am sorry for those where it does not apply though). There’s no way they can grasp it as there’s no way they can understand the problems adults are facing. I didn’t understand my parents either. And the same goes with corporate experience which makes me feel “old” to be a “can-do” guy in the sense I see around me. More in the sense of irresponsibility, blindness and ignorance. I feel to be more the “parent” guy – using experience to foresee consequences before taking actions.

I don’t want to make an impression of being the “know-it-all” type of a person. I am just honestly wondering how to mix positive attitude and apply experience at the same time, and try to pass on the experience to others as well.

Did experience make you much more problems aware or have you remained easy going enthusiastic easy-goer? If the former, how do you point out problems without being perceived as a skeptic? Anybody?

Categories: EA, Personal

4.Lesson Learned: Start From Yourself

September 22, 2011 4 comments

“They cannot say what they want”, “They don’t [want to] understand…”, “They don’t care…”

Familiar? I am hearing “They” a little bit too often I would say. In my opinion, if you find yourself complaining (too much about executive management, project people or business guys, you should start thinking hard about yourself. If they don’t understand you, it’s your problem, not theirs. If they cannot say what they want, what can you do to help them express their needs in an understandable way? If you think they don’t care, what is it they do care about?

Simply, if “they” could say what they want, you might not be needed at all in the first place. So challenge yourself a bit, think hard what it could be that your customers might need and try to create a draft with some useful information. Approach your customers and humbly learn what they like or dislike about your “offer”. Tune it with them, ask for feedback. Avoid approaching your customers with generic proposition what you “could” do for them and nothing tangible in your hands.

And one more thing, very very important. It’s actually the first think to do before you start your EA endeavour (and perhaps the key message of this lesson): let your ego at home! Thinking that you’re the best, the smartest, the most knowledgable will just stand in your way to success, to gaining respect and trust.

Categories: EA

3.Lesson Learned: There’s No “The Company”

September 5, 2011 1 comment

This one is still in the space of EA customers (although I thought there’s not much more to say:). I had a déjà vu recently – discussion about EA being primarily for “the company”. Please, should you be the one that still thinks that what you are doing is for the good of “the company” and that “the company” cannot see your value, wake up or you are history.

There’s really no such thing. “The company” cannot be your customer and you cannot deliver value to “the company”. You do need to find a human customer – an individual – and address his needs and find a vocabulary that resonates with his mindset. If you believe in a “higher good”, you need to find a stakeholder for whom it is his goal. A challenge here is to distinguish wishes from needs. Many stakeholders can wish the same you do, but won’t be ready to give their hand in. All this might sound too obvious and I would not even mention it if I didn’t experience a lot of frustration around exactly these lines.

“The Company” can be used also in a different context – as an excuse. “The company is not ready for …”, “The company is not interested in…” In that case try to gently uncover who is supposed to be represented by “the company” so you can address individuals, not an abstract construct.

Categories: EA

Long Forgotten Inner Motivation

September 1, 2011 1 comment

Having kids is the most amazing (and exhausting) thing in the world. Amongst the myriad of reasons, they make me learn a lot about myself (and umans in generall). And also about the way in which parents trying to raise them up, the environment, society and culture influence children’s innate nature. Here’s one example.

Let the story talk first:

Yesterday:

Yesterday my 3-year-old was dancing at a local summer party. Really cute experience as every one of you parents can imagine. She’s keen in dancing, though of course in this age it only hardly resembles any particular “style”. Without a doubt I was a proud father. Out of nothing DJ announced that a reward will be given out to the best dancer and unsurprisingly, it wasn’t her. The “competition” of older kids was just too strong.

Now I could really see her confusion in her eyes. On one hand, she was dancing as good as she could because she likes it, enjoys it and has fun. And then, there was a natural desire for the reward. Unrelated, as a matter of fact. A really pleasant experience was confused with expectation and disappointment.

Few days ago:

During the lunch I was chatting with few colleagues of mine about raising children, that we don’t have rewards and punishments at home and that we try to give our kids choice and teach them the consequences of their decisions (yes, even this small kids, actually since they were 1-year-old). And I was asked how do I motivate them to do something without a reward.

Today:

With a fellow architect we were kind of complaining about the frustration and rigidity of the people in the company. How they are driven by KPIs, cautiousness, securing the position, complaining about others… in many organizations just the usual.

Junction:

All these three stories have a common denominator – motivation.

Ad story 1: I hate to see when so pure and strong inner motivation to do something is manipulated and screwed with rewards, or even worse, punishments. To me, that’s manipulation, not a motivation. In fact, some studies even proved that external motivation through rewards is counterproductive and changes the motivation from the activity itself to “gaining reward” and lost interest in the original activity.

Ad story 2: How do I motivate kids to do something without a reward? Well, I don’t. If I gave out a reward, they would not be motivated to do the thing but to gain the reward. So why pretend.
[This made me think about Gamification, which could be a way here:)]

Ad story 3: Now linking to the corporate world this exciting existing inner motivation, which can be nicely seen in small kids when they are discovering the world. I have experienced interesting thing. People do have this inner motivation still in them. It’s just hidden under the surface, unwanted, undervalued, perhaps even politically incorrect, not nurtured and not leveraged. But when you touch it, when you ask about it and let them talk, you can see how they lighten up, start to imagine and for once you can see that the true motivation is there. Then you even start to understand why some corporations work better than others.

Just to find a way to bring it together and use it for the common endeavour.

Categories: EA, Personal