Silicon Valley State of Mind, a blog by John Weathington, "The Science of Success"
  • @SVSOM
    @SVSOM

    Welcome to a Silicon Valley State of Mind, thoughts tips and advice based on the consulting work of John Weathington, "Silicon Valley's Top Information Strategist."

  • bio
    bio

Silicon Valley State of Mind

Tips, thoughts, and advice based on the consulting work of John Weathington, "The Science of Success."

  • Home
    Home This is where you can find all the blog posts throughout the site.
  • Categories
    Categories Displays a list of categories from this blog.
  • Tags
    Tags Displays a list of tags that has been used in the blog.
  • Archives
    Archives Contains a list of blog posts that were created previously.
Archive, August 2012. Switch to list view

    Posted by on in Operational Excellence

    For the second time this week, I’m typing this blog while the power is out. The last time came as quite a surprise; however, this time, I was more prepared as our electric company left a notice on the door yesterday stating that they would be doing planned maintenance at this time. I made a note on my calendar to that effect, and when planning my day last night, started considering how I would be impacted by the power outage. Not much came to mind, so I scheduled it like any other day. To be resilient, you must break dependencies.

    In my practice, I’m not bound by continuous power. Even if my Uninterruptible Power Supply gives out, which keeps me 95% functional, I can still operate at close to 90% productivity for the rest of the day. I’m typing this entry on a MacBook Air which still has plenty of battery life, and I have a battery powered wi-fi device to get to the Internet if I need to. Most of my operational data is in the cloud, so as long as I have Internet access, I’m in business. My cell phone is fully charged, so no issues with calling people. The only thing I can’t really do right now is crunch large sets of data on my server—and fortunately that can wait.

    There’s a concept in agile design called low coupling. This means, for your solution to be agile, it should not be bolted into other components of the system. This is what makes agile systems resilient, and it can make your business and your life resilient as well. If you like to play Jenga, you know exactly what I mean; removing one small block can bring the whole tower down. You don’t want or need these blocks in your organization or in your life.

    When going through your improvement cycle, focus on decoupling strong dependencies. Don’t allow the power to go out on your business just because there’s no electricity.

    Rate this blog entry:
    0

    Posted by on in Strategy

    Ebay announced earlier this week that it was shutting down the sale of metaphysical goods and services on its site, including psychic readings, potions, spells, and fortune telling. They should have also included some strategy formulation in this category. When you hire big consulting firms to build fancy strategies for you, are you buying a real vision, or a very expensive love potion?

    In addition to information strategy formulation, I deal with all strategy execution, so I clean up these messes all the time. A small army of nicely-dressed consultants brandishing impressive credentials and expensive pens swoop in to patronize your company with an “environmental analysis,” then proceed to pontificate through glimmering, buzzword-ridden PowerPoint about the latest management theories coming out of Harvard. Then, with one of their hands shaking your hand, and the other holding your big check, they’re out the door to repeat the process with your competitors. That’s about the time you call me to ask, “John, how do we make this work now?”

    Thanks a lot.

    When I step into a situation like this, I don’t automatically look for problems with the strategy; however, it must be vetted. That’ doesn’t mean I correct their paper, it just means that to mobilize a strategy, certain things must be in place.

    Strategy execution is very different from project or program execution. With program execution, you execute tasks to complete a relatively short-term objective. With strategy execution you monitor assumptions and consider possibilities and alternatives to move toward a relatively long-term vision. So, to vet a strategy, you must document and support your assumptions about the future. Until you do this, there’s no way to responsibly mobilize your strategy.

    Unfortunately, in going through this process, you often see the big-strategy spell dissipate. It’s a painful realization; however, it’s better than spending the next three to five years committing resources to a strategy that won’t work.

    Although the sale of metaphysical services has been part of Ebay since its inception, they finally decided to pull the plug, because customer service is tired of people complaining that their $20 love potion didn’t work. Who are you going to call when your $250,000 love potion doesn’t work?

    Rate this blog entry:
    0

    Posted by on in Information Exploitation

    The right information is probably available, but are you sensing it? If not, this information is doing you no good. How in touch are you with your common sensors?

    I just walked into my chiropractor’s office five minutes late. This is unusual for me, I'm usually very punctual. Unfortunately, I fell victim to my own informal control plan. No, I don’t track statistics on how long it takes to drive to my chiropractor; however, after going for several years I have an internal sense for the central tendency and variance of the drive time (a little Six Sigma lingo for you this morning). For good measure, I always leave 30 minutes prior to my appointment, which I did today.

    As soon as I hit the freeway, I was in gridlock traffic. I thought there may be an accident; however, I didn’t see anything. It took a total of 35 minutes to make it to my appointment today; fortunately, my chiropractor wasn’t too upset.

    What’s important to note, is the information for my travel time was available, I just wasn’t tuned in. Whenever you get directions on Google Maps today, not only does it tell you distance, but it also tells you driving time based on the current traffic. If I had a sensor to this information tied into my workflow engine, I would have known to leave a little bit earlier today.

    Fortunately for me, this particular bridge isn’t critical to my daily operation or my strategic objectives; however, do you know what information you need to collect, and how timely it needs to be?

    These are what I call common sensors. Sensors are the devices used to collect information. What makes them common is the fact that they should be baked into your organization. Don’t let the word common take away from their criticality. In fact common sensors are the most critical sensors you have. They drive your strategy and they drive your operations.

    Know and instantiate your common sensors. It’s one thing to be late to the chiropractor—it’s another thing to be late to the market.

    Rate this blog entry:
    0

    Posted by on in Program Management

    Being prepared for the obvious is not only a good practice, it’s just common sense. As I’m typing this, San Ramon is in another brown-out. That’s a delicate way of saying the power’s out, but we hope it will come back soon: unlike the devastation of the real black-out. Sometimes brown-outs last for only a few seconds, sometimes they last for hours.

    Having lived in San Ramon for over a decade now, one thing I know for sure—I don’t care what you call it, the power goes out sometimes. I’ve been dealing with the effects of brown-outs from as long as I’ve lived here. Now, it’s not the end of the world if I’m not able to get this post to you this morning; however, it’s nice to know I can. I bigger brown-out irritant that surfaced when I first moved here involved my servers.

    Since I do a lot of data crunching and analysis for clients, I have a a heavy-duty server sitting right next to me. Best practices learned long ago as a good, young Silicon Valley lad prevent me from loosing unsaved work because of a crash—that’s not the issue. The issue is that large servers really need to shutdown gracefully. You can’t just pull the plug out, which is basically what the electric company just did to me. If you do, it has a horrible time trying to recover, and there’s extra time spent making sure it recovered the way you want—it’s a big mess.

    Fortunately, in addition to my server, I have a Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) sitting right next to me. It periodically issues a few loud caws to let me know the power’s still out. Even though I could easily figure that out myself, it’s a nice alert when a brown-out happens and I’m not next to my server. About a half hour ago when this happened, I was in the kitchen thinking about breakfast. When I heard the alert, I ambled into my office (there’s no rush, I had plenty of time), and brought the server down—gracefully. No muss, no fuss.

    Preparing for times like this may be considered risk management by some, but not me. Looking forward to anticipate anything this obvious is actually part of execution planning. In fact, anything that has a better than 80% chance of happening shouldn’t be classified as a risk anymore, treat it like a certainty. For example, I didn’t decide whether or not I should buy a UPS on the chance that a brown-out may happen. I bought a UPS because I knew a brown-out would happen eventually—and here we are.

    Uninterruptible power for me means uninterruptible productivity. So, instead of reading a good book right now, with nothing else to do, I’m sharing this wise advice with you. Plan for the obvious—that’s obvious, right?

    Rate this blog entry:
    0

    Posted by on in Program Management

    Happy Friday, everyone!

    As we’re wrapping up another week, I thought I’d share a few thoughts on—wrapping up. There are lots of things you could wrap up: a conversation, meeting, client engagement, project, program, or even a large-scale strategic implementation. In all cases, it pays to intentionally spend some time in review of what happened. In Deming’s classic Plan, Do, Check, Act management method, this would be the Check phase. Six Sigma, in true form, has formalized this process and it’s called a Plus Delta.

    Although more structured than an ad-hoc review, the Plus Delta is really a loosely defined construct. The Plus part attempts to discover what went right, and the Delta part attempts to discover what could be improved. Notice that there’s no Minus, this is intentional.

    Concerning yourself with what went wrong has three problems. First, it’s negative. Call me a typical, California bliss-head if you must, but negative talk is just not empowering. Second, it encourages ratholes. For some reason people love to complain about what went wrong. It’s easy to have the discussion devolve into a huge moan and groan session if you start going down this path. Third and most importantly, there’s very little value in what went wrong. It’s like telling a restaurant server who’s taking your order, “Well, I don’t like lima beans or liver.” Okay, but it doesn’t say much about what you would like to eat now.

    Exploring a Delta, or what could be improved, is a much more constructive conversation. However, don’t let you or your collaborators spin this into a Minus conversation. After the Plus, it’s easy for people to assume it’s time to talk about the Minus, even if you call it a Delta. This is not clever management-speak, Deltas and Minuses are two different topics.

    Finally, if this session has a title, please don’t call it a post-mortem. As you probably know, this is latin for after death. What kind of cynic came up with this crazy term? I’d rather call the session a post-victoria!

    So, the next time you hold a post-victoria, try the Plus Delta format. You’ll find it sets you up nicely for the next time around.

    Have a great weekend, everyone!

    Rate this blog entry:
    0

    Posted by on in Leadership

    In a perfect world, a leader inspires people into action. In the real world, you need to be tough: not all the time, but when it’s necessary. If you’re worried that things aren’t happening fast enough, and you’ve tried the motivational route, you may want to take off the velvet glove and break out the iron fist.

    When I was young, John Waite released a popular song called “Mr. Wonderful,” where he sings about someone who’s just fed up with being nice. I don’t think leaders get to that point with their organization, but they do get frustrated and confused: frustrated because things aren’t going in the direction they want, and confused because there’s been plenty of communication going out, but the troops just aren’t rallying.

    I’m not against the humanistic movement in leadership, but I think it caused a lot of weak leaders. The higher up in an organization someone goes, the more political they feel they need to be. Politicians carefully guard their exterior, paying close attention to how they appear to the public. The Republican National Convention is opening next week in Tampa with Ann Romney instead of Mitt because they feel she can add a softer side to the campaign. I agree, I don’t think Mitt has done a good enough job connecting with voters, and that will hurt him in the upcoming election.

    However, this level of spin-surgery will backfire for a leader in Organizational America. To a large extent you must connect with the people of your organization, but you are also responsible for results, which you don’t always get by being the nice guy. I’ve had many organizations hire me to be the iron fist because they don’t want to get blood on their hands. I appreciate the business, but this is silly. As a leader, you are responsible for making (sometimes unpopular) decisions and holding people accountable. Both of these things are unpleasant at times, but if your magnetic personality isn’t winning them over, that’s the only way to get things done.

    Don’t worry so much about your employees’ vote of approval. You’re not running for office, you’re running an organization.

    Rate this blog entry:
    0

    Posted by on in Strategy

    Is it possible to be too nice to customers? Is it possible to overdo customer service? Are there damaging effects to exceeding your strategic goals with customer relationships? These are interesting questions to consider; let me share some of my ideas on the topic.

    There was a period a few years back when my local Safeway was treating me way too nice. I couldn’t get down one aisle without three different clerks stopping to ask me if I was finding everything okay. If I did happen to need some help finding something, you would think I was rushing into a hospital with a severed arm, desperately in need of boxed macaroni and cheese. Maybe some people appreciated the experience, but for me it was too much.

    As you can tell through my discussions about The Orient Express and Sage Vets, I’m a big fan of customer service. It’s more for professional reasons than personal reasons. Although my practice heavily revolves around information strategy, in my view, the best intended use of information is to please customers.

    I don’t think you can go too far with customer service, but I do think you can aim for the wrong mark. For customer service to be effective, it needs to be perceived by the customer as valuable and helpful. What Safeway did back then (they’ve since corrected things) was paved with good intentions, but we all know where that road sometimes leads us. The experience was actually annoying for me, not valuable or helpful.

    To be sure, you must be in touch with your clients and customers. Talk to them; conduct interviews, surveys, and focus groups as appropriate. Or, have an independent third party shop your business and relay what the experience was like. Get accurate market information, and keep good score. These are the kinds of metrics you should be tracking, not the number of hits on your website.

    Rate this blog entry:
    0

    Posted by on in Innovation

    People love the tried and trued. There’s great comfort in knowing a process is in place, and it works. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” right? I agree, as long as you’re sure it ain’t broke.

    I went to Lawrence’s Meat Company in Alamo the other day, the best place to buy meat in the area. It’s the closest thing you’ll find to a real butcher shop around here—a concept that never should have been superseded by the huge supermarkets. Amazingly enough, they’ve been around since 1887, and they’ve probably done an outstanding job since then. I can certainly attest to the quality of their meat today; this this my only consideration when planning any serious meal.

    While there, I noticed some BBQ sauce they were selling on the counter. Apparently, it was created in 1849, so it’s even older than Lawrence’s. For some reason, I was lured by the age of the BBQ sauce, assuming that the “old west,” had great BBQ sauce, and a flavor that’s been around so long must be good.

    I was wrong.

    I know everybody has their own taste, but this one isn’t mine. Maybe “old west” BBQ sauce isn’t all that great, or maybe this company just got it wrong, but after 163 years I would hope they could create something better tasting than this. I’m not sure how in touch they are with their customers, but a controlled approach to their customer experience might be in order.

    In Six Sigma, there’s a tool called a control plan. A control plan is an operational tool that measures how your process is performing. You can overlay this information with your process expectations (when you do this it is not a control plan anymore, but that’s a different topic) to see if your process is consistently meeting expectations.

    Of course, your expectations should be a reflection of what your customers expect. So, to ensure you’re meeting or exceeding your customers’ expectations, I advise that you collect some data from your customers on a periodic basis, and juxtapose it with your control plan.

    This simple sensor should drive your entire organization. You must actively manage your markets’ expectations, and you can’t manage what you can’t measure. This also becomes the foundation for a good customer relationship strategy.

    So, always challenge how trued your tried process is, especially when it comes to your customers. If you aren’t meeting or exceeding their expectations, what category would you guess remains?

    Rate this blog entry:
    0

    Posted by on in Operational Excellence

    A few days ago I completed an experiment to see if it was safe to shower with my iPhone; here’s an update. Anxious to start my new morning routine in stereo, I jumped in the shower, cranked up the Wall Street Journal, and started about my business. In very short order, I realized there was a slight glitch in the production rollout of this process, and I needed a hot-fix. I found myself in a situation similar to my blog rollout, only a little less serious.

    Everything I tested worked fine so no worries on the condition of the phone; however, I didn’t test for sound quality. The sound played fine through the iPhone, it just wasn’t loud enough to overcome the noise of the shower. In retrospect, even if I had tagged this as a CTQ (critical to quality—it’s a Six Sigma term), there’s no reasonable way I could have tested for this. So, I had to make an in-flight adjustment (aka hot-fix, and based on the temperature of the shower, this was literally a hot-fix).

    I quickly searched Amazon for a bluetooth shower speaker, and I came up with the Hipe Waterproof Bluetooth Stereo Shower Speaker. With a product name like this how could I go wrong?!

    I was right, problem solved. This thing is awesome. I’ve already tried it a few times, and this speaker cranks, much louder than I need for the shower.

    When I posted the news of my original experiment, Olaf, a good friend of mine from grade school suggested that I post a picture from the shower to see what the quality’s like, so this one’s for Olaf! This is the Hipe hanging on the wall, a few seconds after I finished my shower. As you can see, the water’s not really an issue for picture quality; however, the steam fogs up the lens. If I tried to take this picture during my shower, it would be a big blur. Fortunately (for everyone involved), I don’t anticipate taking many pictures while in the shower!

    So, there you go: test, release, hot-fix, success! All is good.

    Rate this blog entry:
    0

    Posted by on in Personal Development

    It's a very peaceful morning in Silicon Valley this morning. I just grabbed a mocha from my Keurig machine, and I'm heading out to my deck to reflect, connect, and jot a few notes to share with you. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s important to slow down once in a while and smell the redwoods. Of course it helps when you’re in a Silicon Valley on a perfect day like this, but regardless of where you’re physically located, you can always adopt a Silicon Valley state-of-mind.

    It’s shaping up to be another awesome day here. This is a perfect day to drive into San Francisco, and take a stroll along Fisherman’s Wharf; maybe do some shopping at Pier 39. Another great idea on a day like this is to take Highway 92 across the San Mateo Bridge, and all the way down the windy path to Half Moon Bay for a few clams and the freshest vegetables you’ve tasted in your life. I’m keeping my options open today; I’m not sure how it’s going to turn out, but it’s guessing it will be good.

    As I’m writing this, it’s about 7am. It's a bit chilly outside, but not too cold--a comfortable breeze rolls by once in a while, and the sun is starting to make its presence which puts a nice warm touch on things. The Sammy lays quietly next to me in anticipation for Dad to stand up so she can shepherd me into the kitchen for breakfast. Kim has yet to awake. I can hear the sounds of several different species of birds at different distances, and the squirrels are playing tag as the run a circuit around the fence, palm tree, and solar panels. One squirrel just took a break to get a drink of water from the pool. He looked up at me in a rush, as if to say, “thanks, gotta go, I'm it.

    We have a lot of stereotypes to deal with out here in Silicon Valley, most of which are true. Many people think we simply bliss out from time to time--they're right. This environment is conducive to a spiritual mood, whatever spirit happens to move you.

    Different people have their beliefs, and I'm certainly not one to impose my religious beliefs on anyone. What I can tell you is that periods of calm reflection and a connection to a higher power made me a better person. You should use your quiet time to put your life into perspective. The biggest problem with extended myopic execution is it creates an over-inflated sense of self-importance. Trust me, the fate of humanity does not rest in your hands.

    Take some time to spend with your partner and family. If you're a leader, take some time with your management team away from the office to reflect and improve. But most of all take some time for yourself: quiet, uninterrupted time to just rest and think about where you fit in the grand scheme of things. I promise, it will make you a better partner, parent, leader, and a decent human being. And wouldn't you agree that we need more decent human beings on this planet?

    Rate this blog entry:
    0

    Posted by on in Innovation

    Scientists have now discovered a method for storing massive amounts of data in DNA. No, IT hasn’t invented yet another acronym for us to learn, I’m talking about actual Deoxyribonucleic Acid, the same macromolecules responsible for carrying all the genetic coding for all living organisms. According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, researchers have encoded a comic book (text and illustrations) onto engineered DNA strands, and have successfully decoded the strands back to the original text (an important test for usability!). Although a pricey flash drive can store about 250 billion bytes of data on a device the size of your thumb, that’s no match for DNA which can store at least 1000 times more data in the same space.

    Of course, nobody’s running out to by DNA devices just yet, but who knows what the future holds? If it’s in your company’s DNA (pun intended) you might know what the future holds, or at least make a good run at shaping it. People now are trying to compare solid-state technology (e.g. flash drives) against the emerging DNA technology. There will of course be advances in solid state technology to meet the voracious appetite of data consumers which doubles every couple of years. Now with renewed possibilities for DNA storage, there will hopefully be advances in making the research more conducive to practical use.

    It would be a great mistake for innovators to put DNA technology in the same category at solid-state technology. This is trying to solve an old problem with a new method. It’s one approach, but it’s boring, uncreative, and has only limited value. This thinking won’t build an innovative, breakthrough that brings a decisive competitive advantage. Doritos was a breakthrough, and still one of my favorite snacks. Ranch-flavored Doritos are pretty good, but not nearly as remarkable. Southwest Jalapeño Guacamole Doritos are silly—by this time all the value has evaporated and they’re just giving the people in New Product Development something to do. And, don’t get me started on Taco Bell.

    Instead, consider looking for properties of the new technology that open up new possibilities. This concept sits at the heart of information innovation. For instance, DNA not only has dense storage capacity, but also has the ability to replicate and mutate rapidly. This could be used to solve complex problems that traditional computers cannot solve today. This is a quick idea off the top of my head, imagine what a concentrated exploration might uncover.

    It all starts with asking the right questions, and committing your organization to finding an answer. You must be able to ask bold questions to get bold results. A breakthrough technology deserves a bold company to innovate a breakthrough product. Is it in your company’s DNA to rise to the challenge?

    Rate this blog entry:
    0

    Posted by on in Operational Excellence

    For those of you wondering whether or not it’s safe to shower with your iPhone, I have the answer—well at least a validated thesis. The thought originally crossed my mind as a way to be efficient in the morning. I listen every morning to the Wall Street Journal podcast, and of course I shower every morning, so I always felt it would be great to multi-task these two processes.

    Of course I could stream in the audio with A2DP over bluetooth; however, I wanted to have the iPhone close enough to check emails or jot notes while I’m in the shower. This is when all the greatest ideas come to me, and the worst place for them to show up!

    So the first challenge was to make the phone waterproof, which is where the LifeProof Case comes in. Since I have full faith and confidence in my LifeProof case to keep the phone dry, the next challenge was heat—can the phone withstand the heat of the shower?

    A quick call to LifeProof support offered zero help. The customer service lady was real nice, but her answer was, “I’m sure the case can withstand the heat, but I really can’t speak for the phone inside the case.”

    Really?

    My reply was, “Did you think I was going in the shower with just the case and no phone?”

    Okay, no help from LifeProof, so I had to setup my own experiment. The one good thing LifeProof support told me, is Apple’s stated upper threshold for heat which is 95 degrees Fahrenheit. As a safety valve, I know the iPhone will try to shut itself off before it overheats, but I didn’t want to take any chances. So, I setup my own experiment.

    I started by ordering a 3M shower caddy and two very inexpensive Acu Rite Thermometers (actually, they’re sold as humidity monitors, but I was just interested in the temperature readings). I’ll explain why I bought two in a minute. I could have gone with a sauna thermometer, but they were much more expensive. By the way, the cheap thermometers are not waterproof, but I didn’t care. If the shower splash/steam ruined both of them, I was out less than half the money it would cost to buy a sauna thermometer. I was prepared for that—no worries. Fortunately, they’re still working fine today, so the risk was well taken.

    For the last seven days, I’ve taken a shower with both thermometers in the caddy. I would periodically check on the readings to satisfy my curiosity, but at the end of the shower I would record both temperature readings (and quickly dry off the devices). Today was the last day of my experiment, and my working theory is: yes, you can safely take a shower with your iPhone.

    Here’s how I know.

    Knowing I’m a Six Sigma Black Belt, a lot of people ask me how many data points make a trend. They know it’s not one or two—so what is the right answer? To be honest, it depends; however, a good rule of thumb I use is seven. In an experiment like this, I don’t expect the variation to be wide, so seven is a good number.

    So why two thermos instead of one? The answer is: measurement error. This is something many people forget, which is why Six Sigma is one of the few methodologies that formalizes the process of uncovering measurement error. There’s no way to know the true temperature, you can only read what’s on your measuring devices. All measuring methods and devices have some degree of error; it’s important to always understand how much measurement error is in your approach. On some days, the two thermometers would read exactly the same; however on days like today, the readings were different—as much as two degrees apart. Which one is right? There’s no way to know. Both could be wrong. The best you can do is take an average and observe the variance (the difference between the two readings). Since both readings were never more than two degrees apart, I’m comfortable using this as a measurement tolerance.

    To summarize the results of the experiment, the average temperature over the seven days was about 85 degrees, and the highest reading was 88 degrees. In the worst case scenario based on my data, and factoring in my 2 degrees of measurement error (88 + 2 = 90), I’m still a good 5 degrees away from Apple’s upper threshold of 95 degrees (which I assume is a very conservative limit). So, my conclusion is: shower with confidence!

    I ran a pre-test earlier with the iPhone in the caddy, and everything checked out okay! Tomorrow I get to enjoy my shower with the Wall Street Journal blasting through the speaker, with full confidence that my precious iPhone won’t drown or fry as a result. I just hope my wife doesn’t protest to an early newscast coming through the walls!

    Rate this blog entry:

    Posted by on in Strategy

    The acquisition of Frommer’s by Google is interesting to me. Of course, Google is a paragon of how to exploit information, so any move they make is interesting to me.

    There’s plenty of speculation on what Google intends to do with the company, and its famous travel guide. There’s an obvious connection between this and the recent acquisition of Zagat, the restaurant guide, and travel software company ITA. Perhaps they’re making a strong move in the travel industry? They’re perhaps mounting an attack against the likes of Expedia and Orbitz?

    Perhaps.

    Google is full of surprises, and they always deliver on their promise of innovating in every corner possible.

    What I like from an information strategy standpoint is that they’re not trying to bake everything in-house. They’ve certainly built an internal culture that fosters innovation, and information innovation is no exception. However, they also understand there’s more than one way to flip a floppy. When you start considering the best ways to exploit information, acquisition is a very solid strategy, as long as you have the competence for merging/acquiring businesses. Frommer’s is their 116th acquisition, and their stable includes some giants like YouTube, DoubleClick, and Motorola Mobility. By this time, I think they have the formula down.

    “Buy versus build” decisions apply to more than just software. If there’s a company out there with valuable, proprietary information that you can exploit, why not make an offer? The worst they can say is no.

    Rate this blog entry:
    0

    Posted by on in Leadership

    Alaska Airlines finally apologized to the disabled gentleman they refused to help board their plane so he could visit his daughter in Washington. Apparently a man with Parkinson’s disease seemed disoriented at the gate (funny how that works), and nobody from Alaska/Horizon Airlines would help him—even when a concerned onlooker tried to intercede by appealing first to the professionalism of the airline staff, then to the basic humanity. In spite of the obvious need for their assistance, and multiple escalations with escalating appeals, the airline employees repeatedly recited their policy of not offering special assistance to any travelers.

    Cameron Clark, the advocate for the elderly gentleman, quickly became outraged at the indecency of the way Alaska/Horizon treated this poor gentlemen, and took to social justice. He blasted Alaska Airlines on his Facebook page, and the story quickly went viral, then hit the national news with USA Today. Wouldn’t you know, Alaska Airlines has now taken a very active interest in our elderly and disabled gentleman flyer. In his apology, President Johnson from Horizon Air admits they should have handled it better.

    I’d like to quickly address the leaders out there who believe good policies and procedures are the way to run a company. Directionally I agree; however you must be careful of getting into situations like Alaska. Good policies keep everything in order, and this is very important for an airline. They have a huge responsibility over others. Without an over-emphasis on policy, a lot of people could die.

    That said, it’s impossible to create a policy/procedure for every situation. Especially when dealing with the public, there’s a wide variety of possible situations. They fell into the process management trap. Something obviously went wrong with Alaska, but I don’t blame the employees at the gate, I blame the leadership. Their philosophy is obviously bureaucratic, the employees were just doing what they were told, and they’re probably not allowed to do anything different for fear of some sanction.

    The leadership needs to adjust their approach, and allow the employees on the front line to use some discretion. Yes, you will get a variety of inconsistent outcomes for different situations, but you must learn to live with it. It’s better than being crucified in the social media by your customers.

    It’s good that Alaska apologized, but the damage is already done. This want so viral, I heard about it from my chiropractor when I was getting adjusted on Wednesday. You should read some of the responses to the apology. Few people are buying the ostensible sincerity of the President—would you?

    It’s better to get the leadership correct so there is no need for an apology. There’s no undo in Unix; don’t issue return on the wrong command.

    Rate this blog entry:

    Posted by on in Operational Excellence

    It has been a couple of months since I purchased a LifeProof case for my iPhone, and I wanted to share some of my thoughts. I bought one for both my wife and me in the wake of an incident that happened some time ago. My two-year old niece accidentally fell in the pool, and my wife dove in to save her life. Thank God everything turned out okay with my niece; however, the iPhone she was holding at the time never recovered from the swim.

    Since that time my radar had been raised for something that could protect the phone better. I eventually decided on LifeProof. After two months of using the case, I’m completely thrilled. To be honest, it’s overkill for what I need—I’m not exactly mountain climbing in the Himalayas every day. In my normal day to day activities, 9 times out of 10 I didn’t worry about the phone at all. I can’t tell you how good it feels to now not worry about the other 1 out of 10.

    I have a healthy paranoia about mixing electronics and water, as any good Silicon Valley native should. Kim’s phone was only in the water for a few seconds, but as you know, that’s all it takes. I tried to resuscitate it with an overnight rice plunge (rice draws the water out), but to no avail. The LifeProof case changes all of that for me.

    LifeProof claims that it will keep your iPhone safe from water, dirt, snow, and shock. So far, I have full confidence the case will live up to their claim. I can already attest to the claims on water and shock, and as soon as winter arrives, it’s off to Lake Tahoe for the snow test!

    LifeProof is very diligent about covering all the bases. They exhort you to do a rigorous water test without the phone before you ever put your phone in the case. Of course I complied (with both phones), and I was delighted at the results—after an hour under water, both cases were completely dry. Then it was time for the real test. I carefully sealed up my wife’s phone, and threw it in the pool (you didn’t think I was using mine, did you?).

    Voila! The phone worked completely fine underwater, just as they said. I was thrilled! Since then we’ve used our phones in and around the pool with no worries at all—what a relief.

    As much as I like the phone, I’d be remiss if I didn’t share some of the areas I would recommend for improvement. First, the case is a bit bulky. It has a relatively slim design as far as protective cases go; however, compared to no case, or any normal carrying case, it makes the phone a little big. Also, it’s best to keep the phone in the case at all times. Because of the way it seals around the phone, LifeProof doesn’t recommend that you open and close the case too many times. A full water test is recommended every time you put the phone back in the case, so you won’t want to do this very often.

    This makes the handling of the phone a bit cumbersome. There is a door at the bottom of the case that swings open so you can charge the phone. That’s fine if you plan to use the normal charging cable that comes with Apple; however, it presents a challenge for docking stations. LifeProof claims that if you buy a dock extender (like the one in the picture), you can use the case with any docking station; however, that’s not true. Shortly after I purchased the case, I purchased a dock extender and a Sinjimoru Sync and Charge Dock Stand. With almost 100 reviews and an average four star rating, I thought it was a safe bet—I was wrong! There’s nothing inherently wrong with the stand; I think it’s pretty slick. However, when you add the LifeProof dock extender, the unit becomes top heavy and it doesn’t take much to flip the phone over. This was driving me crazy, as when I’m in the office, I keep the phone in the stand next to me. This thing would dump over several times a day. I gave up on this idea, and after some research, settled on an iHome iD37GZC Dual Alarm Stereo Clock Radio. I don’t need an alarm clock in my office, and this doesn’t sync, but it does support the phone when it’s docked. As a bonus, it charges my iPad when I’m not using it for my iPhone.

    Another minor thing about handling the phone with the case on it, is the headphones. Without the LifeProof case, it’s no big deal to plug-in and unplug headphones. I would do it all day long, as I only use headphones when I’m talking on the phone. With the case, there’s a screw where the headphones go. Every time you want to plug in headphones, you must unscrew the cap, and screw in the LifeProof headphone adapter (actually, you don’t need the adapter if you’re using standard iPhone headphones, but for any other kind of headphones, you need the adapter). This is a bit of a process compared to just plugging in headphones when you need them. I may adjust in the future to bluetooth, but I’m still not impressed by the connection quality.

    Of course, I have a belt clip as well, which makes the bulky phone even more bulky. This might be appropriate for an athlete, but there’s no way I’m going into a meeting with an executive wearing this bat-phone gadget. Plus, the belt clip won’t work with the dock extender in the phone, so you must remove the dock extender, close the door, then push it on the belt clip. It’s all a bit clunky compared to my Belkin case that would just slide and snap into place.

    Shortcomings notwithstanding, I love this case. The peace of mind is worth every penny I’ve spent and all the adjustments I’ve had to make. I just ordered a second dock extender to keep in my car, when I need to use the car charger. I’m also looking into waterproof headphones and an armband for when I’m swimming in the pool or at the beach.

    All this is of course analogous to extra investments in risk mitigation. Even if you have some tolerance for risk, it’s okay to take a few more steps and spend a few more dollars once in a while for the extra peace of mind. As long as priorities are covered, it’s okay to splurge a bit on extras. That might be hiring a consultant even when you have capacity in house. It might be putting redundant controls in place even though the existing controls are working fine. It might be taking a process to six sigma even though five sigma is well within tolerance. It might be going after 85% market share when you already have 75%.

    It’s hard to put a cost on anxiety, but it sure feels good when it’s not there. And if you have an iPhone, go buy a LifeProof case—you’ll see what I mean.

    Rate this blog entry:

    Posted by on in Program Management

    The subscription functionality on the blog works now, so please subscribe to my blog—really!

    If you click “subscribe to blog” at the Silicon Valley State of Mind blog, a small window will appear asking for your name and email. As you may expect, when you subscribe in this way, you’ll get an email delivered every time a new post is made. When I rolled out the website a couple of weeks ago, I didn’t realize this wasn’t working. I guess I should have tested it, but it slipped my mind. So yesterday, my colleague Dave Gardner who runs the popular Business Execution Insights blog sent me a note to tell me my new blog had a bug.

    Yikes!

    Although it wasn’t the best news, it wasn’t the worst thing in the world, so I was working with the techies in Malaysia last night to figure out what was going on. Of course we resolved it, and it’s fixed now. Not only is this fixed, but since we were already under the hood, we tweaked a few more things that should make the site work better.

    Although I’m not thrilled to fix this in production (i.e. after it has already been released to the world), I don’t have any regrets. It’s important to move when you think you’re ready—forget about set, and just go. Don’t get me wrong, there’s value in the set phase, but it’s usually not enough to justify the cost in time. Most people and organization undervalue time: as if it’s free. Time is not free at all! Time is probably the most precious resource you have because its not at your discretion to spend and it cannot be replenished.

    By the way, you still need ready, don’t try to skip over that step! Planning is important, but over-planning is foolish. When you approach a project—large or small—think about your objectives and reasons first. Then, think about priorities to help you gauge your time. Finally, come up with at least one alternative or path that seems to make sense.

    Then just go.

    You’ll need to make adjustments, but that’s okay. Learn to anticipate these “realtime opportunities for improvement”, and build competence in adjusting quickly in the moment. Valuing time like this will pay dividends many times over. It took me less than an hour to fix the subscribe problem—if that’s the worst of my problems, I’m in good shape.

    And, don’t forget to subscribe to my blog!

    Rate this blog entry:
    0

    Posted by on in Strategy

    Over the weekend we received this wonderful gift from Sage Centers for Veterinary Specialty and Emergency Care. It’s not expensive or elaborate, just a hand-made craft with a picture of Lacy surrounded by congratulatory messages from all the doctors and nurses that took care of her over the last few weeks.

    Lacy, our wonderful and perfect darling of the family was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma (yes, malignant cancer) a couple of months ago, and the wonderful staff at Sage have been nothing but courteous and professional throughout the whole process of excising the tumor, administering radiation treatment for three weeks, and following up with post-radiation treatments. Her checkup last Thursday was nothing but good news—she’s doing extremely well, and she will be ready for chemotherapy in just a couple of weeks. So, the staff at Sage decided to send us a nice “congratulations,” on the great progress she has made so far.

    Sage continues to impress us with not only their professionalism, but their personal touch. As you can see by their Yelp reviews, they take their customer relationships very seriously. They’ve been awesome to this point, but I never expected anything like this. In my opinion, this is over the top.

    Relationships are a key component to any business. For any company to have this kind of affect on so many people, there’s more than excellent customer service in play—this is proper execution on a relationship strategy. This is the secret to building long-term customer loyalty; something vital in today’s competitive environment. Relationships must be part of your strategy, and contemplated by the CEO and top management in the same discussion with what products will be offered and what markets will be served. Like anything else in your strategy, you can choose to be competitive, distinctive, or breakthrough. If you choose to pursue a breakthrough relationship strategy, you don’t need to spend a lot of money, but you do need to make a very strong impression on your customers: over and above what they normally experience. Sure, I get cards in the mail at Christmas time from my dentist; however, this is playing at a completely different level!

    A couple of weeks ago I talked about The Orient Express, and now Sage. To be honest, I can count on one hand the number of companies that have this level of loyalty with me, and none of them have to do with utilities, financial services, or travel and hospitality. What have you done lately to show your customers how much you appreciate their business? If you value your customer base, you don’t want your competition to come up with a better answer.

    Rate this blog entry:

    Posted by on in Leadership

    Some IT organizations today still cringe when employees, or even their own business users, come to them with the technology they want to use. To them BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) is just another four-letter word. They’d rather if you just kept your smartphone and tablet computer far away from their precious infrastructure, as they hide behind corporate policy to avoid having to deal with integration hassles.

    I’ve done a lot of work advising architecture for data warehousing and business intelligence solutions, and the crusades I’ve seen waged against the evils of spread-marts (spreadsheets used as data marts) and other user-controlled reporting mechanisms, is reminiscent of the holy wars of 13th century Europe. Leaders who participate in such barbaric behavior are waging the wrong battle. It’s difficult to get good feedback; great leaders don’t push it away, they welcome it!

    I recently wrote an article for SearchCIO-MidMarket on how the consumerization of IT can be leveraged to improve an IT organization. You can read it here, if you’re a current subscriber (registration is free). The point extends beyond IT, so if you’re a leader in any capacity, what’s happening in IT is worth noticing.

    For those of you not familiar with the term, consumerization of IT simply means employees bringing technology to IT, instead of the other way around. It’s been attempted for decades; however, the outmoded mantras of “use whatever IT mandates,” are being strongly challenged with the empowerment of the social generation. Under mounting pressure from top management, IT organizations today are forced to make things work instead of arbitrarily dismissing a proposed technology because it’s not a good architectural fit.

    In my opinion, IT never should have pushed back. In their zeal to protect their fiefdom, they isolated themselves from the rest of the organization. This forced organizations to reconsider how integral the function of IT was, and many IT professionals found themselves out of a job as outsourcing became the rational conclusion.

    Whenever you have the opportunity to have your users—whether they’re business users or customers—come to you for help in making their lives easier, you should jump on it right away. It won’t take long for them to determine whether or not you’re on their side. And if you’re not on their side—you’re on the wrong side.

    Rate this blog entry:
    0

    Posted by on in Program Management

    The Unites States Federal Bureau of Information (FBI) announced today that it spent $600 million to share files electronically. That seems silly doesn’t it?

    To add insult to injury, this was the initiative that was spurred by the September 11th attacks back in 2001. That’s right, it took $600 million and 12 years to build a system that shares files electronically.

    I know you may not be as experienced as I am in these matters, but in case there’s any doubt, no it does not take $600 million and 12 years to build a system to share files. At Sun Microsystems, it took me only $2 million and 1 year to build an entire compliance data system from scratch, that hooked into four disparate transactional systems including a massively customized Oracle ERP installation. This is at Sun Microsystems, the closest thing I’ve ever seen to a government operation in the private sector.

    The obvious problems are bureaucracy and politics, but it’s worth mentioning to highlight just how insane costs can get when you don’t get this straight. Bureaucracy and politics go hand in hand to destroy a program. Bureaucracy happens when objectives don’t matter anymore and everyone’s just worried about following steps. This is what I call the project management trap. Politics happen when leaders protect their fiefdoms by any means possible, sustaining their position and the status-quo. In both cases, objectives are demoted in favor of artificial gods.

    To prevent this in your organization, do three simple things:

    • Establish an Executive Sponsor who is clearly accountable for objectives. Give him/her the chair on a steering committee if you must, but there should be one, very high-level person accountable for nothing but results.
    • Establish a program/project charter, and assign full authority and responsibility to a competent program manager. Hire a good consultant of you don’t have the competence or availability in house, but avoid huge management agencies; it’s like hiring another bureaucracy. The FBI fired Lockheed Martin midstream on this project due to delays. I wonder why. The same thing will happen with any of the big consulting firms.
    • Setup tight-cycle (i.e. weeks, not months), functional deployments (i.e. something that can actually be used by the business), and reward everyone based on accomplishing small objectives to attain larger objectives.

    Just like bureaucracy and politics work together to bloat program costs and timelines; these three practices work together as the Pepto-Bismol. By keeping the focus on objectives and actively fighting politics and bureaucracy, you can bring your project in far under $600 million and 12 years.

    I mean, really? Give me a break!

    Rate this blog entry:
    0